Dakota bucked a bit, but Milagro was smooth in the saddle.
Changing horses was no big deal to Special Olympian Robert Seignious, who was fine-tuning his equestrian skills Wednesday, July 22, in Norco.
“It’s fun and I like to win medals,” he said with a smile.
The South Carolina resident was among the 10-member Special Olympics USA Equestrian team practicing for the Special Olympics World Summer Games, which begin Saturday, July 25, in Los Angeles.
Nearly 350 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the country are training for 16 sports at Inland venues through Friday and are staying at the UC Riverside dorms for four days before leaving for Los Angeles..
After the morning workouts, competitors headed to downtown Riverside for an afternoon “Parade of Champions.”
Enthusiastic crowds lined Main Street to cheer on athletes who wore red shirts, waved American flags and chanted “U.S.A,” “U.S.A.” as they walked toward City Hall. About 100 athletes, coaches and trainers from Team Sweden preceded the Americans. The parade included the Martin Luther King High School band and cheerleaders from Poly High School in Riverside.
Riverside residents Holly Fajardo and her daughter Emily, 17, slapped high-fives with athletes as they walked in front of the Mission Inn.
“It’s important that they see the community supports them just like professional athletes,” Holly Fajardo said. “They don’t get the same recognition and they should.“
The care and compassion that Riverside showed towards our guests, truly demonstrated what makes us such a ‘unified city‘. We are a caring community that has compassion for all of its inhabitants, and engages with one another for a better life for all.
Emily Fajardo, who graduated from King High in June, was part of a campus club that works to integrate special needs kids with the rest of the student population.
“You get to know how wonderful and unique they are,” she said. “You are drawn to them.”
Grand Marshal Lauren Potter, an actress featured in the TV show “Glee,” was part of the procession. Potter is a Poly High graduate and has Down syndrome.
“I’m so excited to be with all these amazing athletes,” Potter, 25, said before the parade started.
Earlier in the day, Seignious, 21, talked about riding horses at the No Drama Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Norco, which is hosting one of the practices.
The horse named Dakota was challenging to ride because it was the first time the animal had a male rider, said Marissa Brzescinski, the equestrian team’s head coach.
“He was getting a little out of control, so I got a replacement,” explained Seignious.
He returned to the arena and hopped on Milagro, practicing proper form and posture with coach Tom Walmsley.
“I feel like I’m on a jet,” is how he later described the experience.
Horses at the ranch are trained for competitive events and are “as safe as can be,” said Walmsley, who lives in Illinois.
The athletes who were honing their equestrian skills hail from nine states — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri and Arizona.
Team captain Jeremiah Schedlock looked forward to showcasing his talents in front of big crowds in Los Angeles. He also wants to meet and socialize with people from other countries.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Schedlock, 24, who lives in Prescott, Arizona.
‘SUCH AN HONOR’
After Wednesday afternoon’s parade, athletes mingled in front of City Hall, dancing as they listened to recorded music blaring over loudspeakers.
Basketball players from Minnesota expressed gratitude for the support.
“It feels good to be recognized,” said Joseph Ajayi, 24. “It feels good to be part of something this big and this successful.”
Hearing the cheers was heartwarming, added Abel Mehari, 22.
“It’s a really rewarding experience that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life,” he said.
As a gesture of friendship, Amy Norton, a triathlete from New Jersey, gave her American flag to a Swedish athlete and got a flag from that country in return.
Describing what it’s like to be in the world games, Norton, 27, said, “It’s just incredible.“
Her sentiment was shared by teammate Courtney Dreyfus.
“You‘re surrounded by so many new people,” said Dreyfus, 18, also of New Jersey. “You get to be in one of the biggest competitions in the world. It’s such an honor.”