Olympic glory

Event held in memory of longtime Craig Special Olympic athlete

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Bill Mason, a Craig athlete participating in the Special Olympics at Moffat County High School Saturday, had just finished throwing the shot put when the wind started to blow and snow started to fall.

"I wish this stuff wouldn't come," he said.

But a cold drizzly morning couldn't dampen the spirits of Mason and more than 100 other athletes competing Saturday.

The smiles, cheers and high fives still flowed freely.

"I threw the shot put a pretty long ways," Mason said.

He had been training off and on for a couple of months, he said, and was a bit nervous for his upcoming race that he still had to run. But said he thought he was ready.

"Sometimes I trained every night," he said. "I got myself to where I want to be and I'm happy. I think I'll do better because of that."

While every athlete was out to compete, it seemed the final outcome did not matter so much as having a good time while they competed.

Craig athlete Fred Brannon blew on his hand to cool it off before he got ready to throw the shot put 22 feet, drawing laughter from his on-looking friends, who poked fun at him before he attempted his throw.

The athletes visibly had fun Saturday, and their sportsmanship shined through.

In the high school gymnasium, athlete Fred Tenorio slapped high fives with each of three spotters from the Moffat County Sheriff's Department before attempting to dead lift 400 pounds.

He was unable to hoist the weight off the ground, but at the conclusion of his attempt, made sure to slap high fives with each of three spotters again before he walked off.

Tenorio was with a muscular group from Cheyenne, who brought 10 athletes to compete in the weightlifting competition.

"Some of them are pretty stout," coach Chuck Barhite said of the weightlifters.

Some of those athletes from Cheyenne were powering close to 200 pounds on the bench press, and 400 pounds on the dead lift.

One of those athletes was Anna Hogle. She weighed a mere 120 pounds, but was able to power up twice her weight in the dead lift, about 255 pounds.

The team's coaches said their athletes were pretty serious about the sport, lifting twice a week year round. And some of them even have their own trainers with whom they work out with away from the team.

They're serious about the sport and serious about the competition.

"They really get into it," coach Mike Ediger said. "They start competing against themselves."

But not so serious that they didn't take the time to high five every teammate who attempted a lift, and slap each other on the back whether their lift attempt was successful or not.

Athletes Saturday got a taste of what it's like to compete in the real Olympics.

Early Saturday morning, a torch was lit at Craig City Market, and carried by different runners all the way to the high school where the games took place.

Once the torch reached the Moffat County High School football field, the 100 athletes from numerous locations including Craig, Cheyenne, Steamboat Springs and Rifle, marched with their teams down the track, holding signs indicating the community they represented.

Some of the teams, such as Craig, even had matching warm-ups.

The national anthem was played while the United States flag was raised behind the south end zone.

At the conclusion of the anthem, the Olympic cauldron was lit in the north end zone with the torch the athletes and volunteers had carried from City Market.

The athletes took a sportsmanship oath, and a teary-eyed dedication was made to parents of a longtime Special Olympic athlete Brendan Harper who died from a seizure in January at the age of 21.

This year's games were dedicated to the former Special Olympic athlete, who was named area athlete of the year in 1992.

His parents, Sheila and Gary Harper, were presented with a large framed plaque that contained pictures of Brendan and medals he had received competing in the Special Olympics.

"Keep Brendan in your hearts and minds as we compete today," event organizer Rick Allen said shortly before Mayor Dave DeRose, talking over the loudspeaker, officially opened the games.

For the rest of the morning, athletes competed in track and field, swimming and weight lifting events.

At the conclusion of the competition, an award ceremony was held to present the athletes with their medals and ribbons earned in the day's competition.

The ceremony was undoubtedly the highlight of the day for athletes, their parents and their coaches.

Each athlete's name was announced for the event that they competed in, at which time they stepped up to the podium and were presented the ribbon or medal they earned that day.

The Olympic anthem was then played, and the athletes, most beaming with pride, soaked up the applause and smiled for the cameras.

Coach Felix Iovanni, who helped coach a squad of 15 athletes from Steamboat Springs, sat on the floor of the MCHS gymnasium, watching as each of his athletes' names were called.

"It's a day they look forward to for a long time," he said. "They all have a great time competing and being with their friends."

Special Olympic Area Manager Julie Fite, who has worked the area events since 1988, said Craig always holds a great Special Olympics.

"This event is great because Rick (Allen) goes all out," she said. "He's made this a real quality event."

Saturday was also special for the Harper family, who had spent the past 12 years watching their son Brendan compete.

They know how important Saturday was to those athletes, because they know how important it was to their son.

"He loved doing it because it was something he could do well and excel at," Sheila Harper said. "It gave him a chance to hang out with a bunch of people and talk. That was a big part of it. He was very sociable."

The Special Olympics gave Brendan, a born competitor, a chance to feel successful on the athletic field, she said.

"He loved competition and he loved winning," she said. "That's something he didn't get a lot outside of the Olympics."

Even the area director, Fite, said this weekend was extra special because it was held in the memory of Brendan, who had become a staple of the local event.

"He'd been involved in Special Olympics since he could be," she said of Brendan, who began competing when he was eight, the first year an athlete can begin competing. "Brendan was always the light of everyone's eye. He's really missed."


Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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