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Why Champions Together is teaming up students who might not otherwise interact

Posted at 2:39 PM, Oct 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-29 19:15:20-04

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- Going for gold on and off the track. Caitlyn Callahan, from Mechanicsville, is overcoming life’s challenges thanks to new opportunities and a new best friend who is with her every step of the way. Caitlyn never pictured herself competing in sports and running was never her strong point, but even if it was she never had the opportunity to join a team.

"I have a difficult time processing information given to me by other people," Caitlyn said.

The super senior at Lee-Davis High School lives with some intellectual challenges. But the 20-year-old student is high-jumping life’s obstacles as a member of her school’s track and field team.

"When Champions Together was introduced to me I was like, ‘Cool, I want to try this,'" she said.

Champions Together is an idea hatched by the Special Olympics which pairs students with disabilities with student athletes. The teams participating in Champions Together go head to head and the competition is stiff.

"I don’t think about my disability when I’m playing any sport," she said. "I’m having a good time and I’m focusing on that one thing and that is that game."

Lauren Schrecengost is Caitlyn’s teammate and running buddy.

"I don’t even think there are words to describe how proud I am of Caitlyn and how far she has come," Lauren said. "I think the most important thing is to accept the idea of acceptance."

The program fosters bonds between students who otherwise wouldn’t interact.

"One of the things that I feel is special about being an athlete on a team is making friends," Caitlyn said.

"I think that is the power of Special Olympics. We see things start to change when people come together whether they are on the playing field or off," Holly Claytor, with Special Olympics, said.

As for Caitlyn, the once timid athlete, said her participation on the track and field team is tapping an inner drive. A determination her mother has never seen.

"It has brought her out," Caitlyn’s mother, Amy Cross, said. "Because I think this is going to give her the confidence that she needed in her life."

Caitlyn’s conviction between the lines is spilling over into life thanks to her support.

"I feel special. I am happy to have that person with me that I am able to talk to her and trust her," Caitlyn said.

Caitlyn and Lauren are two athletes and friends vowing to cross the finish line as Champions Together.

"If anybody is out there telling you can’t do something prove them wrong," Caitlyn said. "Just do it."

Champions Together began in 20 schools across Virginia one year ago. This year 33 schools have introduced the program to their student body. It is the goal of the Special Olympics to have a form of Champions Together in every school.

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Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.