Jesse Middlebrook snapped through the ribbon at the end of a 400-meter dash with his face beaming.
Middlebrook, 17, had just beaten his nearest opponent by several yards. After the race, he slowed to a walk, and caught his breath before speaking.
“It feels pretty good,” the Olathe resident said of his win.
Winning, however, wasn’t necessarily the objective of the event in Craig. Rather, the goal was participation and fun.
The Special Olympics Colorado Western Area Summer Games took place Saturday morning at Moffat County High School. Nearly 100 athletes from the Western Slope convened in Craig for the opportunity to compete in track and field, weightlifting and swimming.
Julie Fite, area manager for the Special Olympics, said the athletes practice year-round, and those efforts are showcased in regional events such as the annual summer games in Craig.
The focus of such events, she said, is to reward the athletes.
“It makes it an even playing field for everyone,” she said. “It’s a time to let the athletes shine and show off the hard work they’ve been doing all season in practice.”
The summer games have been sponsored by the Craig Kiwanis Club for more than 30 years, games coordinator Dan Severson said.
Food is provided to the athletes through donations from Craig restaurants such as Carelli’s Pizzeria & Pasta, Dominoes, McDonalds, Subway and Wendy’s, he said.
Severson, who has been involved in the event for five years, said the Special Olympics provides a rewarding experience for athletes and organizers.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s been awesome.”
Craig has three Special Olympics teams, and more than 20 area athletes participate.
Craig resident Alegra Corey coaches the track and field team. She volunteers for one reason.
“The athletes,” Corey said. “They’re a joy to be around.”
Craig resident Billy Chase said he has been coaching the Craig Powerlifting Team for nine years.
“My son started (in Special Olympics) a long time ago,” Chase said. “I was a chaperone, and then I started this. … It’s a blast, man. It’s a good time.”
Fite said the decades-old event in Craig owes its longevity to two factors.
“It brings the community to-
gether,” she said. “And also, the Craig Kiwanis Club is out here making this happen.
“They’ve been involved as long as the athletes.”
After Middlebrook caught his breath, a race organizer asked if he was ready to compete in yet another dash.
“Sure,” Middlebrook said.
Then he jogged back to the starting line, still smiling.
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