Samantha Munson feels joy every time she steps on the track. Munson began her Special Olympics career as one of the first athletes to represent Special Olympics Franklin County at Special Olympics North Carolina’s Summer Games and has made her hometown proud every year at the Games since then. But little did she know that nine years after her first competition, she would represent not just Franklin County, but the whole state of North Carolina.
Following the 2016 SONC Summer Games, Munson qualified to have her scores submitted to compete in the 100-meter dash at the 2017 Penn Relays. Munson was excited to even be considered, but was over the moon when she found out that she was chosen to represent her county and state. She would be the first female athlete from North Carolina to compete at the largest track and field competition in the United States.
After arriving in Philadelphia with coach Danielle Dietz, Munson met with athletes from other Special Olympics programs. Together, they all walked down onto the fields.
“It was in true Special Olympics fashion, walking down to the field with our competitors, but it was a great feeling,” explained Dietz. “Especially since walking into Penn fields was almost overwhelming with thousands of people, athletes and fans.”
But Munson was ready.
“There were a lot of people there, but I’m used to running at state-level events. I was prepared for this,” said Munson.
When they called her division, Munson lined herself up on the track, anticipating the crack of the start gun. And with a deep breath in, she took off running. The feeling of the wind blowing past her face told Munson she was doing well, but she wasn’t sure she had it in the bag.
“I had no idea that I had won gold when I crossed the finish line, but I knew I had run very fast,” said Munson. “But you know you’re winning if there’s no one in front of you.”
Samantha made history that day by winning gold at the 2017 Penn Relays, and she wanted to share that feeling with everyone.
“We toured Philadelphia the next day, and she wore her medal all day long and shared her experience with whoever she could,” said Dietz. “It was evident she was proud of herself and I certainly was, too.”
The thrill of coming in first did not wear off once they returned to Franklin County. Beaming with pride and with her medal around her neck, Munson started work the next week at Blue Collie Coffee, a new inclusive coffee shop in Louisburg. Customers learned that day about Munson’s determination and confidence as a Special Olympics athlete.
Though it was an incredible experience, Munson hopes this was not a once in a lifetime opportunity. She would be excited to go again next year, but her goals are aimed even higher now.
“I’m going to compete my hardest and hope that I can go to the World Games!” she said.
After almost ten years, the feeling of stepping out on the track has not lost its impact on her. With her new ambitions and accomplishments, Munson hopes to keep racing and making her hometown proud for as long as possible.
Congratulations on winning gold, Samantha!