*This story has been corrected to reflect that the opening ceremony for the Spcial Olympics Missouri will be Friday night.
COLUMBIA — Columbia resident Allison D’Agostino, 24, has been swimming for more than five years.
“What I like most about swimming is you can be as free as you want,” D’Agostino said. “I get better with every practice. It’s nice to see that improvement.”
D’Agostino will be competing in Special Olympics Missouri aquatics this weekend.
She will compete in the 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter breaststroke, 100-meter individual medley and the team relay. One of her favorite parts of SOMO is getting to be with her friends, D'Agostino said. And when she's not with friends, the athlete said she looks to her family and her coach for support and guidance.
“What I would tell someone just getting started in swimming is to do your best and make sure to listen to your coach because they know what you’re good at,” D’Agostino said. “Also to believe in yourself, otherwise there’s no point.”
SOMO will begin Thursday and last until Sunday. This will be the second year of its four-year term in Columbia. The featured sports will include track and field, aquatics, basketball, bowling, powerlifting and volleyball.
SOMO will fall on the weekend this year as opposed to last year, when it fell in the middle of the week, in hopes of encouraging more volunteers to help with the program.
The 2013 Opening Ceremony will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday* at the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle. In case of rain, it will be held in the MU Student Recreation Complex. The ceremony will include the traditional Parade of Athletes and the lighting of the Flame of Hope. Special guests will be the ZOOperstars, people in inflatable animal suits who performed on “America’s Got Talent.”
“We really want people to know the events are free to the people,” said Brandon Schatsiek, public relations coordinator for SOMO. “We strongly encourage the public to come support the athletes. It’s a great time for the whole family. Even if you can just come for a half hour, come cheer on the athletes and see the way their faces light up.”
More than 2,500 athletes and coaches will come together for SOMO in Columbia. The event receives several in-kind donations from local businesses along with donations from individuals. Eighty-seven percent of each dollar raised goes toward program services. It costs SOMO an average of $259 per athlete to participate in the program, according to Schatsiek. But the only time athletes are charged a games assessment fee is when they reach state level,which ranges $25 to $50 depending on whether they need housing. Athletes are encouraged to fundraise to cover this cost.
To participate in SOMO athletes must be at least 8 years old and have an intellectual disability. They begin with eight weeks of training and then move on to compete on a local level, followed by area, district and regional competition for an opportunity to compete on a state level.
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