- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

A simple billboard on a rural Missouri road 33 years ago changed Dave Lenox’s life.

“In 1976, I was a freshman in college, and I was driving down the road in Springfield, Mo., and there was a sign that said, ‘Volunteers Needed,’ and so I went there,” said Lenox, tracing back his passionate involvement with the Special Olympics.

On Saturday, still as passionate, Lenox was on the infield of the track at C.D. Hylton High School in Prince William County, Va., managing his team of Special Olympics track and field athletes from Northern Virginia in the Rappahannock Track & Field Regionals.

“Arms, Colin, arms,” he yelled as one of this sprinters passed, at the same time calmly instructing some of his other kids to line up for the next race.

Special Olympics, founded in Maryland in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and now comprising almost 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries, has a broad mission: to bring together “passionate, committed individuals from every walk of life, who recognize the value and unique gifts of people with intellectual disabilities. And who, together, share the common belief in dignity, equality and opportunity for ALL people.”

The mission was so important to Lenox that he has made a career of Special Olympics.

“After college, I was teaching emotionally disturbed students, juvenile delinquents, during the day and working with Special Olympics as a volunteer in the evening, and that was my respite,” Lenox said. “I was volunteering for a while and then worked my way up to coaching.”

After working in the Ozarks for a while, Lenox moved to Kansas City, Mo., to work with inner-city children and snagged his first paid position with Special Olympics in 1985. From there, he relocated with Special Olympics to work as state director in West Virginia for two years, he said, because “I knew mountains and poverty from my time in the Ozarks.”

After an eight-year stint as state director of North Carolina, Lenox moved to the Special Olympics’ international office on 19th Street NW in the District.

“I wanted to work with athlete empowerment so the athletes could do public speaking, be on boards,” he said. As vice president of sports and athlete leadership programming, he is in charge of all 30 Special Olympics sports, with people from seven regions in the world reporting to him.

After he completes his day job, he hustles to Alexandria twice a week for track practice and sometimes spends much of a Saturday guiding his athletes in competitions all as a volunteer. Saturday’s meet began with the traditional opening ceremonies, with color guard and the reading of the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

“I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, and if ever during open ceremonies I didn’t shed a tear, I’d quit,” Lenox said.

Special Olympics also benefits a huge network of volunteers, including the Boy Scouts, who learn valuable and powerful lessons.

“When I first came here today, I thought I pretty much would just be directing traffic,” said 14-year-old Trevor McGough of Boy Scout Pack 554, who shadowed some of the boys throughout the morning. “But it was really fun.”

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