Special Olympic Athletes Take Home Memories, Medals (PHOTOS)
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – Saturday was Game Day in Twin Falls, and according to their coaches and family members Idaho’s Special Olympians had a blast.
“He likes to be competitive,” said Connie Dixon, grandmother of 19-year-old Bridger Wright.
Dixon said her grandson started practicing for the games in March, and in May he competed in regional games in Pocatello.
She stood on the sidelines watching Bridger, dressed in an orange t-shirt as a member of the Twin Falls Tators, throw a tennis ball on Canyon Ridge High School’s football field where some of the games were played on Saturday. The object of the match was to see how far participants could throw the ball.
The Tators comprise 43 members, said Kirk Christensen, one of about 10 coaches who instruct the orange-colored team. There’s another 20 or so volunteers who also help the team.
Christensen said the games are a way for Special Olympians to get together with their peers and have fun. To them the games are not as much about winning as they are about competing and cheering teammates.
He said when team members gathered in March to start practicing, the first week was a bust because they were more focused on catching up with their friends whom they hadn’t seen all year instead of training for the games. But they soon got into a routine and started looking forward to Game Day in June.
On Saturday, athletes participated in a number of events at the high school – basketball, cycling, flag football, power lifting, throwing events, and track and field. Aquatic activities were held at the City Pool.
The athletes demonstrate the best in sportsmanship, said Laurie LaFollette, executive director of Special Olympics Idaho, who spoke at opening ceremonies on Friday at the high school. To them, participating in the games is not about winning or bragging about their own accomplishments, but about being recognized for just participating.
They bring a spirit to the games that isn’t easily found anywhere else, said Hamdi Ukulaya, CEO of Chobani, who also spoke at the Friday ceremonies. They demonstrate the meaning of true sportsmanship, he said. And in the process, they are inspiring.
Christensen said some of the athletes have more fun cheering their teammates than in actually participating themselves.
After the Special Olympics, which ended with medal ceremonies and a celebratory dance, the athletes return to their homes with memories and medals of the games they made special by their participation.
Bridger, who has competed in past Special Olympics, will often ask his mom about the games he participated in and his medals. They'll talk about the events, share memories, and look at his medals and the photos captured during the games.
He especially likes looking at the photos, said mom Stephanie Wright.
The family recently redecorated his room to better showcase his medals and trophies, she said, some which he’s won at other local sporting events. Outside of the Special Olympics, Bridger likes to play tennis.
He'll get involved with other activities that will keep him busy until March, when he again will gather with the Twin Falls Tators to start practicing for the next Special Olympics. For now, however, this year's games will be on his mind.
“He’ll be talking about this for weeks afterward,” she said.