Nearly 2,000 Special Olympics athletes from across Missouri will compete in the 2004 Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games that begins today on the MU campus and continues through tomorrow.
Seventy local athletes will participate in the events, according to Shannan Baker of the Special Olympics’ Missouri office. Events today and Friday will include track and field, aquatics, powerlifting, bocce, tennis and team handball. To qualify for this week’s competition, roughly 14,000 athletes competed in their event at the local level in Special Olympics games across Missouri. The Missouri State Summer Games is the highest competing level that athletes reach in the Missouri program.
“It’s more about allowing the opportunity to participate in athletic events when they may not have been able to participate before,” Baker said. “It’s about getting in there and getting a chance to shine.”
The Special Olympics program provides
a year-round sports training and physical fitness program that allows athletes with mental disabilities the opportunity to participate in sporting events as well as maintain physical fitness, according to Baker. In addition, the program allows athletes to communicate, socialize and gain self-confidence.
Jeanie Byland’s 27-year-old daughter, Sarah, has been participating in the Special Olympics for 17 years. “She really meets a lot of new friends and has an opportunity to socialize,” Byland said. Sarah is also a Special Olympics global messenger, which gives her and other athletes the opportunity to speak about Special Olympics to different organizations. Sarah will be competing today in the aquatics events at the MU Natatorium and in the tennis event on Friday.
This is the first of a four-year commitment awarded to MU and to Columbia to host the Special Olympics state games. The university will provide housing and dining for the athletes and coaches, as well as athletic and recreation facilities for the events, according to Diane Dahlmann, the director of MizzouRec and a member of the board of directors for Special Olympics. She said the university is proud to be hosting this event.
In addition to athletic events, Special Smiles, a program of Special Olympics that finds local dentists to volunteer their skills to provide oral screenings to check for cavities and demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques, will have a tent today at Walton Track Complex. This is Special Smiles’ second year at the state games. Last year, its members screened more than 400 athletes. The Missouri Physical Therapy Association will also provide a fitness clinic today at Walton Track Complex.