‘It makes me happy’

Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games
a chance for athletes to connect, compete

Members of the Grand Junction Gators basketball team wave to the crowd Friday as they make their way down the track at Stocker Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics Colorado State Games.

Zach Marlof carries the Special Olympics torch to the cauldron Friday night at the Special Olympics Colorado State Games accompanied by from left to right, Grand Junction Deputy Police Chief John Zen, Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis, Adams County Sheriff Mike McIntosh and Colorado State Patrol Capt. David Ozanic.

Members of the Cherry creek Aquatics Team wave enthusiastically to people in the stands as they parade down the track during the Opening Ceremony on Friday for the Special Olympics Colorado State Games being held this weekend at Stocker Stadium and Colorado Mesa University.

There’s plenty of pomp surrounding the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games, but for Gabby Vigil, it’s an opportunity to make new friends.

Hundreds of athletes poured in Stocker Stadium on Friday night as the three-day celebration kicked off with speeches, the law enforcement torch run and the official opening of the games. Athletes from all parts of Colorado paraded down the track with an escorting band and cheerleaders. Players from the Grand Junction Gladiators, a local semi-pro football team, helped guide the athletes on the track and handed out water bottles.

Vigil, a 14-year-old District 51 athlete, said there’s so much joy in seeing all of the state’s Special Olympics competitors come together.

“It makes me really happy to see other kids from different places try (Special Olympics) and all that,” Vigil said. “It just makes me happy to see other kids — like, there are some kids here who need a lot of help — and I like how they can come out here to try something new.

“It just makes me feel good inside. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning after this and I’m just ‘I’m so happy so many kids did this’ because it keeps so many people (active), gets them out of the house and their parents get to cheer them on. It makes me happy, it makes the kids happy and it makes all the different adults from all the different schools happy, just being able to be at Special Olympics.”

The eastern stands were packed as athletes marched into the stadium, with teams from different cities and groups representing different disciplines at the games. Soccer, power lifting, swimming, and track and field take the spotlight today and Sunday, spread across Stocker Stadium and the Colorado Mesa University campus. Events begin at 8:30 a.m. today and 8 a.m. on Sunday.

Vigil will get the chance to shine on the track, competing in the softball throw, long jump and at least one race.

“I love Special Olympics because I get to hang out with all my friends,” Vigil said. “I get to see my parents and see other kids’ parents happy about everybody doing the Special Olympics. I think kids doing the Special Olympics is good.”

The Opening Ceremony began with a moment of silence for longtime Special Olympics volunteer Vickie Pologar, who died recently. Colorado Rockies co-owner Charlie Monfort was acknowledged for his support of Special Olympics and Grand Junction Mayor Rick Taggart spoke to athletes.

After the introductions and parade, the torches carried by emergency service personnel and law enforcement officials circled the stadium with a Grand Junction Police Department motorcycle leading the procession. It culminated with officials from different local agencies assisting a Special Olympics athlete as he lit the “Flame of Hope” to officially start the games. A new base for the Flame of Hope was provided by Fruita Monument High School paraeducator Leah Lopez, teacher Ryan Hudson and several students who worked on the project.

For District 51 coach Mike Lans, the Opening Ceremony puts the focus squarely on the athletes and those who make the Special Olympics possible.

“It’s a good opportunity,” he said. “The athletes have a great time doing it. We wish we could get more kids to do it, but there’s only so much you can do during summer break when everybody wants to get out of town.

“Walking down in front the crowd, Opening Ceremonies, it’s a big lift for them. They know that there’s a big crowd here for them and this is their opportunity to shine.”

Vigil just can’t wait to get started.

“I got to do Special Olympics last year,” Vigil said. “I’m excited that I get to do them again.”


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