Summer Olympic Games showcase special talents
Hard work, grit, determination and don’t forget a bit of fun is what makes a great athlete, and Stevens Point will get a first-hand look at the accomplishments of many athletes during the Special Olympics Wisconsin 2016 State Summer Games at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP).
The Summer Games begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9, with the Parade of Athletes on the UWSP Colman Track. If there is inclement weather, the opening ceremony will be held in the Multi Activity Center in the Health Enhancement Center. The games will run through Saturday, June 11, and feature events in aquatics, track and field, soccer and power lifting.
“All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and Special Olympic athletes have the heart and determination to keep going and do their best, no matter what their circumstances may be,” said Kristy Bridenhagen, adapted recreation director at Stevens Point Area YMCA and coach/agency manager for Special Olympics.
“Over the past 12 years I have learned so much from all of our athletes … words can’t express how much all of my friends have taught me,” she said. “Their level of enthusiasm for their sport is amazing and contagious. Their excitement grows with every practice and so does their hard work.”
Prior to the start of the Summer Games, law enforcement officers and civilians will carry the Flame of Hope from all corners of Wisconsin in the Final Leg of the 30th Anniversary of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, June 6 to 9. The Final Leg will feature runs and bike rides in more than 30 Wisconsin communities, all converging in Stevens Point to kick-off the Opening Ceremony of the State Summer Games.
Past and present World Games athletes will be part of the Opening Ceremony. Daina Shilts and Heidi Van Abel will help bring in the Flame of Hope to light the cauldron, while Olivia Quigley, Special Olympics USA medalist, will be a presenter during the Opening Ceremony.
For the more than 1,500 athletes participating in the state Summer Games, the competition is a culmination of efforts throughout the year and being able to participate at this level brings a lot of pride.
“I feel important,” said Hannah Janz of Stevens Point, who qualified for state in swimming. “It puts me in a happy mood. I get to see friends that I compete against and friends that I went to school with.”
For others, not discounting the feeling of accomplishment, it brings comfort to see old friends and meet new ones.
“I have a lot of fun with friends and I like making new friends,” said Alyssa Alvarado of Stevens Point, who qualified for state in soccer. “I like the coaches too. I helped support my soccer team, and we made it to state. I have so much fun, I have to keep in shape for my teams and for me to stay healthy.”
Competitions will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, June 10, and 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 11.
Even if they do not qualify for state competition, the athletes enjoy the process and attending the games for their teammates.
“(It’s) to have fun, see friends, cheer others on, compete with friends,” said athlete Charlene Polum of Stevens Point. “I like the coaches, they are my friends too.”
“I like to watch and cheer on my children,” said Jeanne Peplinski of Stevens Point, an athlete and mother of athletes in Special Olympics. “I (also) like to volunteer … it makes me feel special.”
Other athletes will simply volunteer because they appreciate the camaraderie and being able to help out wherever they can.
“I like to support the athletes, and I help by volunteering in aquatics by handing out awards and I lead the participants to the pool before they compete,” said Nicole Pliska of Stevens Point, athlete and volunteer.
It takes more than 600 volunteers to keep the games running smoothly throughout the three-day event. Volunteers are still needed for aspects of the games such as escorting athletes to events, presenting awards and other portions of the day to day operations. To sign up, visit SpecialOlympicsWisconsin.org/summer.
In addition to the games, more than 100 volunteer medical professionals will be on-campus to provide free dental, vision, fitness and hearing screenings to Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes as part of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes. Through the Healthy Athletes program, Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes receive free screenings in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the anxiety and fear individuals with intellectual disabilities often experience when faced with a visit to the doctor or dentist.
Athletes will receive giveaways including mouth guards, sports goggles, prescription glasses and more.
Special Olympics Wisconsin is a statewide organization that unleashes the transformative power and joy of sports everyday around the world. Through work in sports, health, education and community building, Special Olympics empowers people with intellectual disabilities, leading to a more welcoming and inclusive society. With the support of donors, coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and more than 600 athletic competitions in 18 Olympic-type sports to more than 10,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities. For more information, visit SpecialOlympicsWisconsin.org or call 800-552-1324.