COLUMBIA - When David Easterla found out Christian Cantwell would be at the Show-Me State Games opening ceremony, he had to drive the hour-and-a-half trip from the Lake of the Ozarks to Columbia.
Easterla, 71, has participated in several Show-Me State Games, has won gold medals in swimming, but he has never been to the opening ceremonies. That is, until Friday.
“I’ve followed this guy since day one. I grew up in the Ozarks near Eldon (Cantwell’s hometown), and have followed him from the start. I had to drive the hour and a half when I heard he was going to be here,” Easterla said.
More than a thousand people from across Missouri came to see the start of the Show-Me State Games at Hearnes Center. Cantwell, a silver medalist in shot put at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, answered questions with 1968 and 1972 bronze medal winner for race walking, Larry Young. The Show-Me State Games usually ask someone to give a speech, but this year did a question-and-answer session instead, led by KOMU anchor Jim Riek.
Cantwell, who attended MU, is a two-time World Indoor Champion in shot put, the 2009 USA outdoor champion, and brought the MU its first Olympic medal since 1992. When asked to be a part of the opening ceremonies, he leapt at the opportunity.
“It was a cool honor. To be honest I didn’t know they had opening ceremonies at first, but it was neat to know that they did and wanted me to be a part of it,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell participated in the Show-Me State Games until 2001. He still holds the Show-Me State Games shot put record, and said he was excited to give back to the games he loved growing up.
“It’s pretty neat to come back; I haven’t competed since 2001 so it was cool to see new kids competing,” Cantwell said. “Any time I can be a role model it’s cool, it’s definitely an inspiration. That’s what being an athlete is all about.”
Cantwell was asked a medley of questions about his participation in the Olympics and bringing a medal back to the U.S. The crowd roared with applause after every answer. Cantwell even left many of the children in attendance with a piece of advice that might stay with them as they start to compete.
“It’s all about hard work,” Cantwell said. “If you believe you can do it, then you can. I don’t think anyone thought a kid from a small town in Missouri could go to the Olympics or even win a medal.”
The Show-Me State Games also held its annual torch lighting ceremony after the question-and-answer session. Making their way from the top of Hearnes Center were the athletes of the year from 2008, Heather Love and Rudolph Oates*. With Olympic music blaring from the speakers, the long silver torch was then handed off into the hands of Young. After a medley of red, white and blue fireworks shot into the air, popping and snapping, a flame burst into the air and the torch was lit. People from all over Missouri seemed excited to witness this event.
“We heard this was the best part of the whole thing,” said Stan Ferguson, coach of the FCS Angels softball team from Lee's Summit.
The opening ceremonies also included an honorary torch run from the Boone County Courthouse to Hearnes Center, led by Rick Matheny, who has participated in the state games from the beginning.
The festivities concluded with a high-octane dance by the Mid-Missouri High Steppers. The crowd roared as it filed its way out of the arena.
The Show-Me State Games and the Show-Me State Senior Games will be held from Saturday until Aug. 2. More than 30,000 participants will be participating in more than 40 sports spread out across Columbia and the surrounding area.