COLUMBIA — Inside the Hickman High School gym, a group of athletes prepare to powerlift. Hands twitch, eyes focus, five MU football players load the bar with weights and Special Olympics athletes lift it.
Even though her son Brandon wasn't competing yet, Karla Mize was cheering for every athlete. That's the way it works at the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games: Every athlete is supported.
"It's hard to find a place for them to be active and play," Mize said about her two sons, who both participate in the Special Olympics. "But they just love it, though. I don't think a lot of people understand how social they are. They're like anybody else. They want to hang with their friends, and they want to travel."
Even though the Special Olympics will move from Columbia to Springfield next year, Mize said her family will continue to attend and participate in the games. She drove four hours this year with her two sons from Cape Girardeau.
Mize entered her sons into the Special Olympics after her nephew competed in the games, and her older son wanted to play basketball.
Now after competing for several years, Mize said the games have impacted her sons in a bigger way than just health and athleticism.
"They are very confident. They feel like they can do anything," Mize said. "Nothing is holding them back. When they're in school, they don't typically have a lot of friends. But when they come to practice, they know everybody there, and it's just a big group of good friends."
About 2,000 athletes signed up for this year's games, Gary Brimer, senior director of sports initiatives for Special Olympics Missouri, said. He added that this was the event's highest participation in at least a decade.
One volunteer who helped with the powerlifting events was Mitch Morse, an offensive lineman for Missouri football.
Morse, who is from Austin, Texas, helped at the Special Olympics for six years before coming to Missouri. The games hold a special place in his heart because his younger brother, Robert Morse, has disabilities.
"Especially with my brother, you realize you have a pretty good life," Morse said. "You live with the luxury, and you see some of these kids who don't have much but still have so much joy in what little they have. That’s why I can look back on the things I have and be joyous as well."
Instead of lending muscles like Morse, David Stock gives his voice. Stock has volunteered for the games for 10 years as an announcer.
During the lifting events, Stock energizes the crowd as he calls each athlete’s name and encourages the crowd to “talk" to them.
"A lot of volunteers come out to help with Special Olympics, and I think they come in with one idea of what they're going to be doing and who they're going to be working with," Stock said. "I firmly believe that when they leave, they have an entirely different concept of what they were part of when they were here."
This story was written by one of 11 students participating in the Sports Journalism Institute, hosted by MU. This is the 22nd class for the Institute, designed to provide minority and female students with a start in the sports journalism industry. This is SJI's third year at Missouri.