By SUSAN COLTRI
For most of us, squeezing a ball probably doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment. But for athletes in the Special Olympics, possessing such abilities can be a great source of pride.
Each year in the fall, winter and summer, handicapped athletes compete in the Utah Special Olympics. Steve Bingham, games director, said the summer games are the biggest.
The summer games usually draw about 2,000 athletes and their families from all over Utah, Bingham said. This year the Olympics are scheduled to be held at BYU from May 30 to June 1.
The Special Olympics committee and BYUSA are looking for volunteers to help steer the project. There will be an information booth outside of the Harold B. Lee Library today and tomorrow, and a meeting for volunteers tomorrow at 11 a.m. in 378 ELWC.
The theme for this year’s summer games is “Champions — Those who rise above the challenges.” There will be an Olympic town and many activities for the athletes, including dances and shuttles to Utah County points of interest.
Many of these athletes train all year as individuals. They get together in teams two or three months before the games and practice about twice a week for a couple of hours, said Carrie Eager, sports director.
The mission of the Utah Special Olympics is to “provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with mental retardation, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other athletes and the community.”
“One athlete told me she wouldn’t know what to do if she didn’t have the Special Olympics,” Eager said. “Her occupation was very menial. The Special Olympics really helped her sense of individual worth.”
The athletes’ disabilities range from severe handicaps to mild mental retardation, but in many ways they are no different than anyone else.
“The athletes get frustrated just like regular athletes,” said Eager.
The athletes will compete in events including track and field, soccer, equestrian, aquatics, softball, cycling and Motor Activities Program.
MAP includes simple activities for severely handicapped athletes such as squeezing a ball or moving an object from one place to another, Eager said. Many of the other athletes, though, would be considered very good no matter what standard was applied.
“Many of the athletes can play volleyball tons better than I can,” Eager said.
“When I volunteered, I started out thinking I would help them,” Eager said. “But they ended up helping me. I guess that’s what happens in any type of service experience.”