Story by Angela Brandt
Photos and design by Nikki Carlson
The man carrying the torch in Wednesday's opening ceremony at the Great Northern Area Special Olympics is the person who inspired one of the event's organizers to get involved with the competition.
Robbie Cole, 25, and area co-director Shaylee Lewis are lifelong friends. Cole, who carried the torch, met Lewis when they were both children. Lewis said the duo is “pretty much brother and sister.”
Lewis said she wanted to become involved with the Special Olympics because she saw how it had touched Cole's life.
“Once you go to an event, it inspires you for life,” she said.
The two attended Havre High together, where Lewis was a teachers' aide in Cole's special education class for all four years. After the pals graduated together, Lewis went to college to study special education, thanks to Cole's inspiration.
“No matter what obstacle faced him, he overcame it. He always had a good attitude no matter what obstacles were there. He's a really neat young man,” Lewis said.
The event gives participants a chance to shine in sports and emphasizes sportsmanship and good, healthy fun.
Havre High School student Rebecka Danielson, 17, who has participated for seven years, said the games are a chance for her to compete with her older brother Dan, who plays softball. Danielson said she likes to show off her collection of about 25 medals, which are mostly gold. The two also have races to see who can run faster.
“I am trying to beat him,” Danielson said with a laugh.
About 50 athletes from along the Hi-Line participated in Great Northern Area Spring Games in Havre this week. The events included running, walking, long jump and softball throwing. The games are open to anyone 8 years old and up who has an intellectual disability.
Danielson said her favorite part of participating in the games is “getting out of town.” She has been to state competitions in Billings and Missoula. Wednesday's meet at the Havre Middle School track was a prelude to the state summer games, which will be held May 17 to 19 in Great Falls.
She said the medals she received at state competitions were similar to the gold she earned on Wednesday but “only bigger and heavier and when you carry them around it makes your neck hurt.”
Lewis and area co-director and coach Dusty Toth will accompany about 35 athletes from the Hi-Line to the state competition. The event is open to all Special Olympians from Montana.
Lewis said an example of the great sportsmanship shown by the athletes happened during the 50-meter walk on Wednesday. Mariah Bell had made it to the finish line before any other competitors but waited until another racer, Becca Buskirk, caught up to her so that the two could cross the line together.
“That really touched me,” Lewis said. “I don't know if anyone else realized what she was doing, but I did.”
Toth and Lewis said this week's games went wonderfully. Putting on the games is a lot of work but it's extremely rewarding, Lewis added.
“The goal is to have fun and all had a good time, so it was a good day for everybody,” she said.
Toth, who teaches fourth grade at Sunnyside Intermediate School, said he was impressed with the community's support of the games.
“It was just awesome,” he said.
Havreite Mitch Grubb, 23, will go to the state competition for golf and bocce. He has won first place in golf at the last four state competitions.
“So, I'm pretty good,” Grubb said at Wednesday's games. “I have all my friends here from Havre Day Activity Center cheering me on.”
The Havre Day group and the rest of the crowd erupted with applause and a bit of disbelief when Chris Crowe threw a softball 42.2 meters. The tape was almost not long enough to measure the distance of the throw.
The 23-year-old said he doesn't have a special technique - “I just throw it.”
Even though his throw impressed the crowd, Crowe said he has thrown longer distances.
Crowe went to the event with 14 other adult athletes from Malta Opportunities, which is a work simulation center, group home and supported living facility.
Alicia Strom from Malta Opportunities said she has witnessed Crowe's impressive ability.
“When we were in Glasgow, they ran out of tape,” Strom said of a previous competition.
The day's youngest competitor, 9-year-old third-grader Cody Nelson, said his fellow students at Meadowlark School in Chinook gave him and his bocce partner, 10-year-old Dariane Mitchell, a nice send-off. The students all stood in the halls and high-fived the two as they left for the competition, Nelson said.
The oldest participant in Wednesday's meet was 64-year-old Orland Nelson, who placed fourth in the tennis ball throw and third in the 50-meter dash in his age division.
Marsha Gummer has been going to Special Olympics games for 18 years. Her daughter, Crystal Laufer, and granddaughter, HHS ninth-grader Pam Laufer, are both Olympians.
Crystal Laufer went to the 1987 nationals for freestyle swimming.
“I had to go up against the men because I was so fast. I came in second,” she said.
Crystal Laufer said she was the only athlete from Havre to go to the national games and she was homesick.
Gummer said she was really impressed with the number of athletes at this year's Havre competition because some years only saw a handful of participants.
Crystal Laufer, 36, said she is too old to compete and would rather help organize and solicit donations for the cause.
“I got so much out of the experience. I want to give back to them,” she said.
She said she is still friends with people she met when she competed.
“This is a family affair,” Gummer said. She said many family members will flock to the state games in Great Falls.
The family not only includes blood relations, according to bowling coach Mary Engelhardt, who said the adults and kids on the team are “like one big family.” Engelhardt and her husband Steve's daughter Annie has been involved with Special Olympics for about five years.
She said bowling is a good choice for the participants because it is something they can continue after they're out of school, where they would be less likely to continue with the long jump and dashes.
The bowling competition will be held from 1 p.m. to about 5 p.m. at the Chinook Eagles Club bowling alley.