Stanislaus Special Olympics is going big its 41st year, bringing in competitors from two other counties to roughly double the number of athletes participating in a larger-than-ever slate of track and field events Saturday.
At the request of Special Olympics Northern California, the Stanislaus County event is hosting athletes from Mariposa and Merced counties this weekend, said longtime Stanislaus volunteer Liz Trauring. “The others are smaller delegations, like Mariposa has only eight athletes, and you can’t put on an event for eight. ... It takes some money to put this on,” she said. “We have a good track record here, and we’re good friends with Merced County since they started, maybe 10 years ago. We helped them get started; they have maybe 45 athletes coming.”
All told, about 100 Special Olympians are expected to compete Saturday at John F. Kennedy School, 1202 Stonum Road, Modesto. Events include the 50-meter walk; 50-, 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs; 1-mile run; relay; long jump and standing long jump; softball throw; shot put; javelin and some wheelchair events. “We added some events this year to accommodate those other counties,” Trauring said. “There were events we didn’t have people practicing in, but the others had.”
Special Olympics provides athletic opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In addition to the spring track and field events, the organization offers competitions in aquatics, basketball, bowling, soccer and softball. The youngest athletes must be at least 8; there’s no upper age limit. “We’ve had athletes in their 80s who bowl; that’s one of our almost year-round events,” Trauring said. “We don’t get too many in their 80s who want to run, but do get them in their 70s – people who’ve run forever and don’t want to give it up.”
The Special Olympians have been working toward this weekend since the start of February. The competitors have met every Saturday morning to run through all the events, Trauring said.
As for the Olympians’ athletic abilities, “we have the whole spectrum,” she said. “We have some higher-functioning people who are really super athletes, who could – some have – in their high schools. There are some in walkers and wheelchairs. Some who use no equipment but can’t run, so we have walking events. We have some who really can jump, and others who if they can jump 2 inches, it’s a success.
“To some, winning isn’t important – whatever color medal they have around their neck is the best to them. Some are very competitive.”
Among their own group, the Stanislaus athletes know their closest competition, and some friendly rivalries exist, Trauring said. But with Mariposa and Merced competitors entering the mix, there could be some surprises in store. The organizers all record times from practices, but those mean only so much. “Some people, on the day of the event, run twice as fast – or half as fast,” Trauring said.
Participants Saturday will have a shot at competing at the Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games in Davis on the last weekend of June. The gold medalists get first consideration, Trauring said, but “probably less than half our athletes can or want to go on to state.” So spots not taken by the gold winners are up for grabs by other medalists and anyone who has competed.
Saturday begins with volunteer sign-in at 9 a.m., followed by volunteer orientation at 9:30 and opening ceremonies at 10. The opening parade will include one of the new electric motorcycles being used by the Ceres Police Department, Trauring said. Shriner clowns will be there, making balloon animals and entertaining athletes and spectators. There will be arts and crafts tents to keep athletes from getting bored when not competing, Trauring said, and the afternoon will end with a barbecue for athletes, their supporters and volunteers.
“We always need volunteers, so people can just show up at 9 and sign in,” she said. “We do know Frito-Lay is sending a bunch of volunteers, and a 4-H club is sending out volunteers,” but anyone who shows up will be put to use. No athletic ability is needed; the only request is that volunteers younger than 15 be accompanied by an adult, Trauring said.
And the need for volunteer help doesn’t begin and end with Saturday’s event. While the track and field competition has the highest profile, Stanislaus Special Olympics has those other sports going on. For example, it has more than 100 bowlers.
“We can use all the help we can get,” Trauring said. “We do have a couple of high school people who come out on Saturdays to help train with us, but we can always, always use help with any sport we offer, the swimming, the soccer. ...
“We could use people who want to be long-term volunteers, too. I was 71 years old yesterday, we have a coach who’s 80. The area director (John Wray) is just a few years younger than me. He’s been the rock of this organization for between 35 and 40 years, I’m estimating.”
On the Net: Special Olympics Northern California, sonc.org