EDMOND — EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the correct purchase price of the Paralympic statue on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma. The Sun apologizes for the error and any inconvenience for our readers.
Jeremy Campbell, a gold-medal athlete, embodies what the Paralympic movement — and UCO’s commitment to it — are all about.
On Thursday, the University of Central Oklahoma celebrated the start of the 15th annual UCO Endeavor Games and dedicated “Olympic/Paralympic Strength,” a new piece of public art standing on the Wellness Center grounds.
More than 400 athletes from nearly 40 states and several countries, along with coaches and supporters, are competing in the nation’s largest multi-sport, multi-disability event.
The games’ kick-off celebration begins at 5:30 p.m. today at Edmond’s Mitch Park YMCA, 1501 W. Covell Road.
Back on the UCO campus, an associated plaque on the statue at the Wellness Center reads: “UCO has provided athletes of all ages and abilities opportunities to reach toward their highest goal of standing on the medal podium at an Olympic or Paralympic Games.”
During the statue dedication ceremony, Campbell was one of the featured speakers. He was born without a right fibula and had his leg amputated when he was a toddler. He competes on a carbon-fiber prosthetic leg generating the spinning power in the ring normally driven from the legs with his left leg, core and upper body.
Athletes train for Olympic volleyball and archery and any Paralympic sport in association with UCO.
Standing at a podium near the new statue, Campbell said he first heard about the UCO Endeavor Games during his sophomore year in high school.
“I never really understood what was about to take place and that this was gonna be a doorway that would ultimately lead to the life I live today and it’s absolutely incredible,” he said. “I’m so blessed to have this opportunity and to have the support that we have here at UCO.”
In 2003, Campbell began his Paralympic career training at UCO. He competes in track and field events on a simple and clear philosophy: He does not throw for numbers or to implicitly go for another world record. He wants to keep driving for the best discus throw possible both in technical and mental terms.
It’s been a formula for success. In 2008 at Beijing, Campbell gold-medaled in both the discus and pentathlon. In 2012 in London, he gold-medaled in discus. He is credited as being the first Paralympian to throw the discus more than 60 meters — about 197 feet. And he is the current world-record holder in the Paralympic event.
“The Endeavor Games holds a really big place in my heart because it is the genesis of my career,” Campbell told members of the UCO community assembled near the new statue.
Campbell said the Paralympic Games keep growing, especially in the United States, and the level of competition keeps increasing. Campbell said competing is a lifestyle and support from UCO helps him focus on his goals and dreams.
“We’re here today to dedicate this beautiful piece of art and celebrate the opening of the 15th Annual Endeavor Games,” said Mark Herrin, UCO’s assistant vice president for wellness and sport.
Herrin said Paralympic and Olympic sport has brought thousands of people to the Edmond campus since UCO became an official U.S. Paralympic training site in 2005; the university became an official U.S. Olympic training site in 2009.
“We continue to grow in our efforts to be a national and international competition,” Herrin said.
Edmond City Council member Elizabeth Waner, mayor pro tem who serves on the Visual Arts Commission, said the piece of art is another fine example of the city’s partnership with UCO. The statue, created by local sculptor Jon Hair, was the original for the larger version.
The statue is a smaller replica of the one that sits at the United States Olympic Committee Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. An Olympic/Paralympic training site, Central is one of only a few training sites to house the statue.
Waner said to date about $2.5 million has been spent on public art in Edmond by community members matching the city's almost $1.1 million investment. Visual Arts Commission rules allow for a 50-50 match, which in this case UCO contributed $25,000 toward a $50,000 purchase price.
Myron Pope, UCO’s vice president for student affairs, praised the work of staff including Herrin and Katrina Shaklee, executive director of the UCO Wellness Center, one of the many Endeavor Games venues. Pope said the games continue to evolve and are great for the city.
“It has been a long time coming, but the completion of this project reflects a very important milestone in the efforts of this institution to solidify its role and relationship with the USOC,” Pope said, referring to the United States Olympic Committee.
The UCO Endeavor Games allow athletes with physical disabilities to participate in a multi-sport, multi-venue event. As of last summer, UCO was hosting 16 resident athletes in the Paralympic sports of sitting volleyball, archery and track and field.
TRACK and field, cycling, powerlifting and sitting volleyball events began at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Competition ends Sunday. For more information about the UCO Endeavor Games, visit http://www.uco.edu/wellness/sr/endeavor/index.asp.