Disabled athletes enjoy `special’ day
In a joint oath of participation, 80 special athletes recited in unison the words, “Let me win. If I can’t, let me be brave in the attempt,” Saturday morning.
The oath marked the start of the seventh annual Western Area Special Olympics, which featured 10 teams participating in bicycle races and boccie, a form of lawn bowling, at the Spring Valley Campus of Colorado Mountain College.
“It’s about getting together, seeing these athletes do their best, persevering and having fun,” said Julie Fite, chief organizer for the event.
Athletes with developmental and some physical disabilities, from age 8 to 70, came from Glenwood Springs, Vail, Grand Junction, Craig, Cherry Creek and Durango to compete.
The daylong festivities were dedicated to longtime coach Char Thomsen-Rounds and athlete Billy Switala, who died in a car accident in June.
Thomsen-Rounds coached the Eagle/Vail Wolf Pack bicycle team and worked in Glenwood Springs with Mountain Valley Developmental Services.
Vail resident and bicyclist Chris Guay carried the Special Olympics torch in the opening ceremony and said that many athletes were dedicating Saturday’s games to the memory of Thomsen-Rounds and Switala.
Fite, the area manager for the Special Olympics program, said that the two will be missed and “hopefully they are here in spirit.”
The Special Olympics flame was extinguished immediately after the opening ceremony as a concession to the dangerous wildfire season that’s threatened much of Colorado this summer. Still, it gave the event a real Olympics feeling.
Glenwood Springs resident and world-class cyclist Jeanne Golay was the featured speaker at the opening ceremony. Golay competed at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and in Atlanta in 1996.
“I’m happy to be up here, supporting this event,” Golay said. “It’s a very positive event. This is probably the biggest competition these athletes will have all year. To them, it has the magnitude of the Olympic Games. They’re happy to be here and competing.”
Glenwood Springs was represented by a 14-member boccie team that had players ranging in age from 22 to 58. The squad is dubbed Moe’s Dream Team after Moe Moger, who is a staff member for Mountain Valley Developmental Services.
“It means the world to them to compete with their peers,” Moger said. “Win or lose, they’re having fun.”
Mark McLure, a Glenwood Springs boccie player, agreed that the most important part of the event is having fun.
“And winning,” he said quite emphatically.
Teammate Tracy Millard said the games are “good, clean fun.”
Paula Prince, also of Glenwood Springs, was competing for the first time and said she was looking forward to the event, despite being a little nervous.
Nathan Longuevan, a bicyclist from Grand Junction, said he was excited to be participating in the event as well.
The event featured competition among disabled athletes and what they called unified events, where a disabled athlete is teamed up with a nondisabled participant. The idea is to help break down barriers, Fite said.
About 25 volunteers helped with the event. Colorado Mountain College, Wendy’s and the Glenwood Springs Jaycees were the chief sponsors.
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The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association is working with local businesses and organizations to celebrate the spirit of Strawberry Days with a Berry Special Weekend from June 18-20, according to a news release.