COLUMBIA — With his hands behind his back, Ronnie Lowe stood watching his fellow competitors with a composed confidence as he waited for the 4x100-meter relay to begin.
Lowe, 39, has been here before.
For 25 years, Lowe has participated in the Special Olympics State Summer Games. He will compete in track and field this season but also played softball and basketball throughout the year.
The Columbia native returns to the Summer Games not only to vie for medals but also to represent others who have similar challenges.
“That’s the drive and the passion of what I do,” Lowe said.
Lowe was diagnosed with a cognitive disability at birth. As one of the older competitors, he hopes his life experience can inspire other athletes on his Columbia team.
Lowe says everyday struggles such as living independently, finding a job and paying bills can present challenges.
“Being an adult, I can relate to what everyone is going through, so that’s mainly the reason why I’m running,” Lowe said. “It’s more for them than for myself.”
As a leader, Lowe goes on long-distance runs with his teammates in order to make everyone feel at home and comfortable competing together. He says two of his favorite things about athletics are socializing and getting to know his teammates.
Lowe and Mike Christianson have competed together for 12 years. Mary Cuno, Christianson’s mother, recalls Lowe helping her son feel like a part of the team from the beginning.
“I remember Mike coming home and saying how welcoming Ronnie made him feel,” Cuno said. “Ronnie is a very sweet and nice man.”
Coach Cindy Green says Lowe is always there to run with his teammates and is a great representative for the Columbia team.
“He’s a good role model and has a really great outlook on life,” Green said.
One of the highlights of his life came in 2010. Lowe was one of nine athletes nationwide to carry the torch for the Special Olympic National Games. He was selected from a pool of 620 athletes.
“It was a huge honor,” Lowe said. “It was very emotional. I cried when I was there because I got to hold the torch and represent the state of Missouri.”
Competing in the men’s 30-and-older division during this year’s events, Lowe has added gold medals in the shot put, 200-meter dash and running long jump. While Lowe has won more than 100 medals in his 25 years of participation, he still feels helping other athletes is the main reason he competes.
"I'm not just competing for myself, but for other athletes that are in my shape and my condition," Lowe said.