During a typical hot and humid summer day in Washington, D.C., 22-year old Demetrius Cutchin is running as fast as he can on the well-groomed track at Catholic University. During practice, his coach Anthony Sokenu yells, “Faster, D, faster!”
Cutchin is in the running for a gold medal in track and field at Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, taking place from July 25 to August 2.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Cutchin, who has a learning disability, is among the 7,000 athletes from 177 countries who are participating in the Games, which take place every two years in different locations worldwide.
The athlete, who likes “running all the time,” relies on Sokenu, who often reminds him, “Look at me!” during warm up exercises, since Cutchin has a hard time focusing.
Today, Sokenu is having him focus on getting a quick burst of speed off the starting line. “I need to push him to make sure we get the best out of him,” he said.
Both coach and athlete are clearly fond of each other. The shy, quiet young man smiled and said Sokenu helps him by telling him “lots of stuff,” like “Stretch out, chin down.”
After preliminary tryouts in Los Angeles, where only the top athletes will be chosen, Cutchin hopes to run in the 100 meter dash, a 400 meter relay, and a 400 meter race. Last year, at the U.S. Special Olympics in New Jersey, he came in first in the 400 meters — his fastest time ever. He’s hoping to beat that time at the 2015 World Games.
“I feel happy. I feel excited. I feel like I can win by myself,” he said.
Sokenu, who is also the Associate Director of Sports for the Special Olympics program in Washington, D.C., said Cutchin is a natural athlete, who has blossomed since he began taking part in Special Olympics a few years ago.
“You can see that his personality has grown and his athletic ability has grown vastly,” he said.
Cutchin’s mother, Laverna, who often comes to watch her son at practice, said Special Olympics has helped him improve his concentration, and although it took him longer than most students, he graduated from high school last year.
She said the program has also helped keep him off the streets at night in the rough neighborhood where they live because he knows he has to go to practice the next day. “I’ve told him, ‘keep your head up. You’re going to be okay.’"
The Special Olympics philosophy is not so much about winning or losing, Sokenu said, as it is providing a supportive atmosphere for people with intellectual disabilities who may not have the opportunity to participate in sports.
“It gives them a place where they are safe and they understand that everybody that is there is for them,” he explained.
Cutchin's mother will not be able to attend the World Games in Los Angeles. But her face lights up as she promises to cheer him on from back home in Washington, anticipating he’ll get a gold medal. “I hope so!" she said with a grin, "I do!”