COLUMBIA — Trenton Kistler is a three-sport athlete who wants to win a gold medal. However, the Maryville native and other athletes in the Special Olympics Missouri summer games are more concerned with having fun and encouraging one another.
"I try my best to support those who need support the most," Kistler said. He competes in the 200-meter run, long jump and softball events.
"You shouldn't be a poor sport. You should support them for who they are," he said.
Kistler's attitude embodies what the 2013 Missouri State Summer Games is all about. The event is an annual competition through Special Olympics Missouri and brings together athletes from all over the state. Special Olympics Missouri has held the State Summer Games in Columbia for the past two years and will do so through 2015.
Friday night marked the official start of the games, which will continue through Sunday. The opening ceremony was held at the MU Student Recreation Complex.
More than 3,000 people showed up for the ceremony, including about 2,500 athletes and coaches. In attendance were Ute and Stan Smith of Cape Girardeau, coaches for the southeast Missouri region. They've been involved with the Special Olympics for more than 20 years.
"Our first state event we went to, we saw the smiles and how much they enjoyed it," Stan Smith said. "We've stuck with it ever since."
Stan Smith is a basketball and powerlifting coach and also helps with other events. Ute Smith, Stan's wife, is a swim coach and sees the games as an amazing experience for the athletes.
"This is their opportunity to shine," she said.
The opportunity to compete isn't the only benefit the games provide, Ute Smith said.
"Here everything is for them," she said. "Here they are able to experience something we take for granted. It's cool for them to have something of their own."
Events began Thursday with basketball games. The State Summer Games includes six separate competitions spread over four days: aquatics, basketball, bowling, track and field, powerlifting and volleyball.
Athletes who win a gold medal in any event qualify to be a part of Team Missouri, according to the Special Olympics Missouri blog. After earning a gold medal, athletes must receive a nomination, which usually comes from a family member or coach.
Special Olympics staff then screen the nominees and 250 of them are selected to participate in the National Games Selection Camp held June 16 through 21 at the Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo., Special Olympics Missouri spokesman Brandon Schatsiek said. Those who won gold medals at the 2012 State Fall Games last October are also eligible to participate in the selection camp. Here athletes will be narrowed from 250 to the 114 that will compete at the national competition in June 2014.
Supervising editor is Katie Moritz.