Spirits high at Special Olympics
• Photo gallery: Special Olympics
by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
The energy was palpable at the 43rd annual Special Olympics State Summer Games at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa yesterday.
Runners, swimmers, long jumpers, softball throwers, shot-putters and powerlifters bounced on their toes, stretched their muscles or sat and relaxed until their event was called.
Some were new to the Special Olympics; others were repeat competitors.
Twelve-year-old Rebeka Miller stood on the winner's platform yesterday to receive her gold medal in the 15-meter run.
Though a shy girl, Miller wore her medal proudly.
"I ran fast," said the Webling Elementary School sixth-grader. "I work hard at running."
Her parents beamed as they examined her medal. Miller will definitely compete in next year's summer games, said her dad, Daren Miller of 'Aiea.
In all about 800 athletes and 200 coaches from around the state are taking part in the weekend event at UH. The athletes range in age from 8 to 81.
Events continue today with track and field, swimming and powerlifting.
The Special Olympics kicked off Friday with the final leg of the Troy Barboza Law Enforcement Torch Run that brings together law enforcement officials from around the state carrying the torch flame for Special Olympics athletes.
The games isn't just about sports, said Nancy Bottelo, Special Olympics chief executive officer. It also is about following rules, consequences and social interaction, Bottelo said.
"The athletes feel better about themselves and they learn what they can do," Bottelo said. "It carries over to all other aspects of life."
At yesterday's Olympics, as young men jumped into the sand pit, supporters clapped and praised the athletes as they measured their jumps.
"That's the way it's done," said one of the supporters.
Everything is free to the participants at the Special Olympics, Bottelo said, from training to uniforms to travel to O'ahu from the Neighbor Islands. It costs about $1.8 million to put on the event, with much of that covered by donations, she said.
"Money should never get in the way of an athlete's ability to compete," she said.
Sitting under a tent poolside was swimmer Jeremy Stevens, 12, from Makiki. He was anxious to get swimming and competing.
"I'm competing. I'm in heat eight and doing the freestyle," Stevens said as he stuck out his arm to show the markings for his heat.
"I'm really good. I think I'm going to win. I plan to work hard and pay attention and swim strong. See my big muscle?"
Inside the air-conditioned comfort of the athletic complex, powerlifters hefted barbells weighing more than they did.
Amara Coon, a Kaua'i athlete, barely weights 90 pounds, yet she was able to squat and lift 135 pounds successfully.
Coon walked away from the event with a smile.
"I work hard," Coon said. "It wasn't hard today."