All about never giving up

Special Olympians embody perseverance in their athletic endeavors

With an assist from Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper, left, Zach Marolf lights the torch Saturday to get the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games started at Stocker Stadium.

District 51 Unified’s Niki Lester smiles as she dribbles up the field, making sure she was dribbling with her head up as her coach told her to, Saturday at Walker Field.

William Wildmann smiles as he competes in the 25-meter freestyle race Saturday at El Pomar Natatorium. Wildmann was one of 1,200 athletes participating in the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games.

The blessing and the curse of competition is its dual nature. When good things happen — the goal scored, the base crossed, the 3-pointer sunk — champions are made.

So, Spencer Campbell raised his arms in jubilation after shooting the soccer ball into the net within two minutes of beginning his first game Saturday afternoon. His teammates on the School District 51 Unified team surrounded him in a giddily cheering scrum.

In the goal, Dylan Secrist, goalie for the Parker Red Ring of Fire soccer team, dropped his chin to his chest and frowned, digging the toe of his cleat into the FieldTurf. Coach Erich Kirshner, standing just to the left of the goal, gave him a quick hug and told him it was OK.

That’s the other side of competition, the curse of it: If someone scores a goal, that means someone couldn’t stop it.

When Spencer scored again within the next minute, Dylan sank to the ground, legs folded and arms crossed, chin to chest, refusing eye contact.

“It’s OK, Dylan!” someone called from the stands at Walker Field. “You’re doing great!”

“You can do it, buddy,” Kirshner told him.

Dylan seemed to consider that for a moment, then put a hand on his knee and pushed himself back up to standing. He was ready to try again.

And if there’s one lesson of the Special Olympics, it’s the strength in getting back up again and again and trying just one more time.

It’s a lesson emphasized throughout the 2014 Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games, which opened Saturday morning at Stocker Stadium and continue today. When McKenna Birka, a 9-year-old gymnast with Littleton Gymnastics, wobbled off the balance beam after performing a 360-degree spin on one foot, she refused coach Emily Whittemore’s help and instead pushed herself back up on the beam, finishing her routine with a cartwheel off of it.

“These athletes will find a level of joy and confidence in the pool, on the field, on the track, that will extend far beyond this weekend,” said Kevin Wehrly, vice president of retail operations for Safeway, during the Summer Games’ opening ceremony Saturday morning.

About 1,200 athletes and unified partners are competing in these 45th annual Summer Games, supported by about 600 volunteers, said Mindy Watrous, Special Olympics Colorado president and CEO. Law enforcement and emergency-services personnel from around the state gathered at Stocker Stadium and at various venues around Colorado Mesa University to cheer and offer high-fives and place gold, silver and bronze medals over heads bent to receive them.

Heads, it should be noted, that when lifted revealed smiles bright as supernovas, lit from within and spread wide across blissful faces. The medals were earned.

William Johnson, 12, an athlete with the Craig Cougars, earned his as he ran toward the sand pit at Stocker Stadium, hands fisted, arms waving, pushing off the balls of his feet and leaping as far as he could into the sand. This, after he’d already beaten his best time in the wheelchair race. His brilliant smile after was rimmed with orange Cheetos dust.

Aiden Cunningham, an 8-year-old gymnast from Mead, earned his medal by standing under the rings, which hung more than his entire body length above his head, and allowing himself to be lifted up to them, grabbing on, swinging and swinging and solidly landing on the mat with his arms raised in a victory V.

Athletes practice all year for the Special Olympics Summer Games, and whether they win or they lose, they prove themselves champions by always getting up and trying again.


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