The track at North Central College's Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium is not unfamiliar territory to Michelle Jacobs. The junior from Carol Stream competes in the heptathlon for the Cardinal track team.
But on Sunday, Jacobs and her teammates watched as Special Olympics athletes from DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties descended upon Naperville to compete in the Area 2 Spring games.
Members of the women's track team were among about 400 volunteers on hand to offer support and encouragement to the athletes.
"They have trained so hard and it's so exciting for them," Jacobs said. "It's not like you are feeling sorry for them. You are happy for them. They are great athletes."
As the runners get set at the starting line, volunteers line up at the finish line to see them race. When they finish, the relief and joy becomes apparent on all of the athletes' faces. But that also goes for the volunteers.
"They are so happy when they cross the finish line," said Anna Corbett, a freshman at Geneva High School who was volunteering for the first time.
About 30 volunteers came from the school and helped the event run smoothly.
Manager of Sports and Competition Amy Kaylor coordinates the volunteers and gave them their assignments.
"They are the most important part of it. If I don't have them, it doesn't happen," Kaylor said. "It's really great to see them step up and to be amazed at what they see our athletes doing."
The former special education teacher has been helping Special Olympics for 29 years.
She said the athletes are split into groups based on their abilities to make them as fair as possible. As she has seen many athletes grow, she said they have become her friends.
"Being around our athletes, they become more people than just people with disabilities," she said.
With their families cheering them on from the stands, the day of competition and medal ceremonies came to a close successfully despite gloomy weather that brought overcast skies and occasional light rainfall.
That was a small obstacle to beat when compared to what some athletes face on a daily basis.
"Some do have a lot to overcome," she said. "But they don't think about that. For them, they're thinking 'I'm going to work hard and do what I do.'"