Friendship and support at the heart of the Special Olympics

Staff Reporter

The Special Olympics is about more than competition.

“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The creed spoken by the athletes of the Special Olympics rang out through Cessna Stadium at the opening of the 2012 Summer Games. For the 42nd year, Olympians from all over the state came together to compete in the Games, and perhaps more importantly, support each other.

More than 1,300 athletes competed at this year’s event. Many were there for a repeat appearance. Roger Guthals and Tammy Boele have been competing at the Special Olympics since 1993. Both of them competed in three events, but Guthals said other things are more important than competing.

“Seeing all the old friends you haven’t seen in a while, in a year, that’s my favorite part,” he said.

He feels that friendship and support are what makes the Special Olympics unique. He spent most of the opening ceremony Friday night talking to those sitting near him, hyping them up for the games and making many new friends.

Friendship was obvious throughout the games. No matter the event or race, the entire crowd encouraged all of the participants throughout the day.

One member of that crowd, Matthew, was cheering for racers in the 100-meter dash. He had just placed fifth in his own race and was eagerly waiting for a friend from another team to start her race. As he waited, he encouraged those around him to also cheer for her. He said hearing all of us would help her go faster. 

After the race was over, Matthew was asked why he was cheering for people not on his own team.  

“I just want to make friends,” he said.

By late afternoon Saturday, many athletes and their supporters were gathering to pack up and leave. One athlete, Rich, was taking advantage of the growing crowds to show off the gold medals he won in his three events, the wheel chair race, the obstacle course and the 100-meter dash. 

When asked, Rich gave a mischievous grin and said that winning medals was his favorite part. He also said he enjoyed seeing all the people and catching up with athletes from years before. This year was his second year competing for his team.

He also said that he was looking forward to the dinner and dance being hosted for the athletes and their supporters after the day’s final events.

That support is what is at the heart of the Special Olympics. Athletes are encouraged to do their best. That best may result in them finishing first, like Rich, or maybe not medaling at all. 

The important part is that they all took the opportunity to try.