COLUMBIA — As Cheryl Heltzel stood near the edge of the pool in the MU Student Recreation Complex on Saturday, the words emblazoned on her purple T-shirt were hard to miss: “Chlorine is my perfume.”
Earlier that day, a boy walked through the hallways of the aquatic center wearing a purple T-shirt as well. His read: “Chlorine is my cologne.”
The T-shirts and the mottos indicate that they are members of the Lone Jack team that was in Columbia, along with roughly 2,500 other athletes and coaches, at the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games this weekend. MU is hosting the games for the second consecutive year and will continue to do so until 2015.
So what’s the idea behind the T-shirts?
“It’s just something we just kind of grabbed out of a hat,” said Heltzel, coach of the Lone Jack team. “We try to get them to understand … being a part of a team. So when you do something, it’s not just you, it’s in regard to the entire team.”
Athletes ranging from ages 8 to 83 came from across the state to the competitions with that same thought in mind. They have been competing at the MU Student Recreation Complex, Hickman High School and other venues since Thursday and will wrap up on Sunday.
Although heavy rains that flooded parts of Boone County Thursday and Friday displaced the opening ceremonies, none of the athletic events were affected by the weather.
There are 16,713 Special Olympics athletes statewide, but only those who advanced from area and regional rounds competed in the summer games in Columbia. The schedule included six sports, including track and field, aquatics, bowling and powerlifting.
Brianne Chavez stood out during the bench press portion of powerlifting, and not only because she lifted 160 pounds on her second try, which was almost double the weight lifted by some of the other participants. The 26-year-old from Cape Girardeau was the only woman who took part in the competition. It's something she is used to.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “There’s no competition whatsoever.”
Chavez, who has autism, has competed in the State Summer Games since 2011 and has faced another woman in competition only one time. She says she enjoys the sport and plans to have a future in it.
“Pretty much powerlifting is my life right now,” Chavez said.