Special Olympians compete at U

The annual Minnesota Special Olympics Summer Games were on campus last weekend.

Sara Schweid

The Special Olympics’ “Flame of Hope” spent the past few weeks traveling across Minnesota.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers across the state participated in the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run, according to Bill Fish, vice president of development for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Officers ran from cities across Minnesota toward the state Capitol in St. Paul, where about 150 of them met Thursday. Nineteen officers then began the final leg of the journey, he said.

A silence fell over the crowd of more than 1,000 as the 19 remaining officers, accompanied by uniformed officers, entered Bierman Track and Field Complex on Thursday night for the summer games’ opening ceremonies.

Jim Nystrom, inspector at the University Police Department and executive board member for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, said that for the officers, this was the best part.

“It’s amazing when the officers run in with the torch,” Nystrom said. “It just kind of helps light up the stadium.”

The opening ceremonies marked the end of the first day of competition for the Minnesota Special Olympics Summer Games.

The games, an annual event for the past 33 years, are one of eight statewide competitions held by Special Olympics every year.

More than 1,000 athletes participated in 57 events over the weekend.

About 80 athletes competed in the gymnastics portion of the competition, in events such as rhythmic gymnastics and the uneven bars; others competed in track and field events – from high jump to wheelchair obstacle races, said Anna Kucera, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics Minnesota.

“There’s a chance for everybody at any age and at any ability level to compete,” she said.

The summer games, which generally have the highest participation of any of the statewide events, are a good way to reunite people from the Special Olympics community, Kucera said.

“It really is like a reunion of sorts,” she said. “We all just see each other eight times a year, so we pack a lot into a few days.”

The competition began Thursday with events like motorized slalom races and the softball throw.

Friday was the first day for the gymnastics competition and also saw the female relays and male shot put.

Saturday’s competition included male relays and walks and the female high jump, as well as the gymnasts’ artistic portion.

When they weren’t competing, athletes and their families explored Olympic Town, an area set up behind the field with activities like mini-golf, karaoke, beanbag toss and a dunk tank.

After Sue Hjerpe’s son Steven, 8, won a gold medal in the tennis ball throw, the family spent the afternoon in Olympic Town. Hjerpe said the area was a good way to keep the athletes entertained when they weren’t competing.

This was Steven’s first summer games and he proudly showed off the gold medal he wore around his neck. His mother was glad he had the opportunity to be involved.

“This is a fun way for him to compete in a sport,” she said.

A cheerful and encouraging attitude among those involved is one of the things that have kept volunteer Kari Ullom coming back. Ullom, a University junior, has participated for the past two years.

“Everyone involved seems so caring and is always in good spirits,” Ullom said.

Junior Gabe Dretsch agreed.

“There’s no negativity here,” Dretsch said. “And it sounds like everyone is having a blast.”

Dretsch, a member of the University wrestling team, was a dunk tank volunteer. He said he got dunked at least 20 times.

The next stop for 83 of the summer games athletes is the national games this weekend in Ames, Iowa.

The 83 Minnesota athletes will join more than 3,000 athletes from across the country, Kucera said.

“This is one more great experience for our athletes to have at a very high and competitive level,” she said.