‘We are the champions’ | CraigDailyPress.com

‘We are the champions’

With the Special Olympics, there's medal and then there's mettle

Christina M. Currie

Special Olympics provides special opportunities to special youth who don’t otherwise get to participate in sports, who don’t usually get to spend time with people who don’t judge them, who don’t usually get the chance to shine.

Eighteen Special Olympic athletes from Craig will hit the pool, the gym and the track this weekend, striving to win medals that show they not only competed they won. And all of them will win.

“I’m so thankful there is an organization that these kids have,” said Bonnie Dalton, mother of three Special Olympians and a coach. “They wouldn’t feel the accomplishment and sense of self-worth they have without it.”

Each of the six members of the Dalton family has taken part in Special Olympics in some form or another. Three of Bonnie’s children participate as athletes and the other as a unified partner, who is a person who participates in sports when a Special Olympian pairs with someone who is not a Special Olympian. Her husband “keeps us fed and gets us back and forth,” she said.

Having kids with special needs is a big investment of time and energy.

“It’s difficult at times,” Dalton said, “but I wouldn’t trade my kids for normal kids anytime. You give birth and count fingers and toes and you get this package with all these hidden surprises. It’s frustrating at times.

“At first (Special Olympics) was a much-needed break when they were able to go and compete out of town,” Dalton said. “As I got more and more involved, it’s just so much fun. You go from explaining in different ways how to do something to seeing them accomplish it and that huge grin. Once you’ve gone to a competition, you don’t want to miss the next one.”

Dalton has been a part of Special Olympics for eight years, since her oldest son, J.D., became a participant.

“Watching the athletes and seeing their sense of belonging and the accomplishment they get, I wanted that for my kids because they really didn’t get that anywhere else,” she said.

Bobby Holmberg, now 23, started in Special Olympics when he was about

10. Bobby was born with a heart condition that caused him to stop breathing as an infant. The result was brain damage and partial paralysis on his left side. The result made him different from anyone else.

He tried participating in tee ball, his mother Charlene said, but the sport wasn’t set up to accommodate his disability. So, he joined Special Olympics.

“It was something for him to be able to do for himself, an activity he enjoyed,” Charlene said. “He couldn’t do any school sports. There really wasn’t anything else for him sports wise.”

And the medals he earned for his finishes on the track or in the pool kept him interested.

For Holmberg, it’s all about the medals, but there are some other perks.

“I like going out of town to get away,” he said.

And, Special Olympics gives him a notoriety he wouldn’t normally get.

“My cousin Randy is in the newspaper a lot and I’m not,” Holmberg said. “I do it to make him jealous.”

Athletes get a lot from their Special Olympics experience, Dalton said. Her children have become more considerate of others, better sportsmen and more understanding of the differences between people.

“They don’t see the disability, they see the person,” Dalton said.

Her 1O-year-old son Josh has changed from focusing only on finishing the race himself to more of a team player who finishes a race and turns around to encourage others to finish, too.

Holmberg is reaping the same intangible rewards.

“He’s part of a team,” Charlene said. “He’s got that camaraderie. I’m sure it helped his self-esteem.”

Athletes participate in regional events, area games, which decide who qualifies for state, and state competition.

Volunteers at each venue are what make the sport successful.

“I remember thinking there are people willing to spend time to help out with kids,” Charlene said about one state event held at the Colorado Springs Air Force Academy at which a cadet paired with an athlete for the entire weekend. “It was really heartwarming to see all the people willing to be involved with these kids.”

The names of athletes who earn medals at state games are placed in a hat and a select few are chosen to attend World Games. Some Craig athletes have had that honor, the latest being J.D. Dalton, who was able to travel to Alaska in March 2001 for two weeks. He competed in cross-country skiing.

“When J.D. was chosen to go to world games the look on his face when they pulled his name,” Dalton said. “Even the people who didn’t know J.D. applauded.”

The year after J.D. joined Special Olympics, Dalton decided to become a coach. As a coach, she could have had the opportunity to travel with the United State’s athletes, but was not chosen.

It was hard to see her son go so far away for so long, but when he returned the normally reticent boy was so talkative and that made it worthwhile.

“For the first 36 hours he didn’t stop talking,” Dalton said.

The rewards are just as many for coaches as they are for athletes, she said.

“They’re so loving and accepting,” she said about the athletes. “It’s an addiction. You just keep going back for more kudos. I’d do anything for them.”

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