Havre Daily News
Area Special Olympics co-director Shaylee Lewis said it is easy to get hooked on the competition, which will come to Havre on Wednesday.
“When you see someone walk without crutches for the first time, it's amazing. It is so exciting,” she said.
Special-needs athletes from across the Hi-Line will meet at the Havre Middle School track Wednesday for the Great Northern Area Special Olympics, starting at 10 a.m.
About 50 athletes, both children and adults, from across north-central Montana, will take part in events, which include running, walking, long jump and bocce, which is similar to lawn bowling. A bowling event will take place on Sunday in Chinook.
Vicki Hayes said her and her son Joe's involvement in the Special Olympics has enriched their lives. Joe Hayes has Down's Syndrome
“It's an absolutely wonderful experience,” she said.
HMS eighth-grader Joe Hayes, 15, has been participating in the Special Olympics for seven years. Wednesday, he will run in dashes and be a part of the softball-throwing event.
Joe Hayes said he is looking forward to running and winning medals.
“I can run fast. I run with my friends at school and I win sometimes,” he said. “It's fun to win medals.”
“They really work hard on sportsmanship and team work,” former educator Vicki Hayes said.
Area co-director and coach Dusty Toth, who teaches fourth grade at Sunnyside Intermediate School, said the participants will march onto the track during the opening ceremony Wednesday, just like at the Olympics.
“When they march in, it is so awesome just to see it,” Toth said.
State Sen. President and congressional candidate Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, will be the featured speaker at the opening ceremony.
Tester said this will be his first time attending an area meet. He was a spectator at the state meet in Missoula last year.
“I think it helps out the folks to be better acclimated to life,” Tester said today. He said he will speak about “challenges in life and never giving up.”
“These folks are faced with a lot of challenges. I want to encourage them to keep on going,” Tester added.
Lewis, who teaches special education at Havre High School, said the number of participants has nearly doubled since last year, when about 30 people took part in the events.
Lewis said last year's area Special Olympics was a hit. A group from the Montana State University-Northern men's basketball team came to the games and played bocce with some of the athletes, she said.
“That's something I'd like to see again,” Lewis said.
This year's meet marks Toth's fourth year of participation.
“Watching the joy, even when they just lost, is inspiring. Watching the excitement, even if they can't run and they walk, is great. They think they're the best. That's the point to make them feel they are the best,” he said Monday.
Toth said any of the Hi-Line athletes can participate in the state games in Great Falls, which will run from May 17 to 19.
Lewis will take part in the national games in Ames, Iowa, in July, also known as “the games in Ames.” It will be the first time Lewis has gone to the national event. She was chosen to go to the games with four bowling participants from Montana.