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Spirit of the games


Alice Campbell Havre Daily News [email protected]

Thirty-four athletes from Havre along with 44 others from along the Hi-Line competed in the Great Northern Area Special Olympics Games Wednesday. "(The games) were absolutely wonderful," Shaylee Lewis, the Great Northern Area Director of Special Olympics, said this morning. "Everybody had fun ... the athletes were happy, so that's what counts," she added and said she's already looking forward to next year. "Most people earned three to five medals," Lewis said. While receiving the medals definitely added to the experience for the athletes, goodwill and fun characterized the event much more than the drive to win. For Lewis, the best part about being involved was not only being part of the athletes growing better at their sports, but "just to see the growth in their regular lives as well." "The growth they make in their real lives and the opportunities it gives them in their real lives, that's what's amazing," said Lewis, who grew up with an athlete, is a special education teacher at Havre High School and took the helm of the area games roughly five years ago. Andrea Schlimgen, a 35-year-old member of the Chester Cheetahs team, also finds deeper meaning than competing. "I like it, and I think there's good people here. I wouldn't change anything. I want to be in it all of my life if I can, and it's fun too," she said. "I like meeting new people and hanging out with my friends Keeley (Wilson) and Stacey (Johnston), a teammate," she added. There are plenty of sporting events to partake in, though, and medal winner Bridgett Raining Bird of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation Shining Stars team participated in running, throwing, walking and bowling events. The games are a lot of fun and she likes practicing for them, she said. Danielle Neibert, 23, of the Havre Day Activity Center team, also participated in running and bowling events. "I love it, and it makes me happy," she said. "It makes me want to get out of the house." Big Sandy athlete Carla Hess, 38, has been participating in the Special Olympics games for three years. She participates in the baseball throw, swimming and bowling events, and she likes to ride a bike to stay in top shape. Brian Lee, a 26-year-old athlete from Havre, has also been involved in the games for the last three years and participates in running, the long jump, the softball throw and bowling. He enjoyed participating and winning medals made him feel good, he said. Athletes can participate in running, walking, throwing and jumping events, wheelchair races, bowling and bocce along with aquatic events, which will take place today. "There's something for everyone," Lewis said and added that bowling is "always a biggie people love to bowl." To conclude the games, a dance was held at the high school cafeteria. Joe Hayes, a junior at Havre high, has competed since he was 9. Running events and bowling are two of his favorite activities, but he also enjoys the dance as do most of the athletes, like Raining Bird. Area students and residents also volunteer during the games. "Volunteers from Havre High School help run things and help cheer everybody on," Lewis said. Havre high junior Jessica Howland volunteered to help at the area games in 2008 as a community service project for the People to People organization. She volunteered again this year. "It's been tons of fun," she said. Tanya Westbrook emceed the games at the Havre Middle School track and has volunteered for the Special Olympics for two years because the athletes lift her spirits. "It feels good to help people out. It's a lot of fun to see people out and competing," Westbrook said. "I like interacting with everybody ... and everybody has a great time, and it's hard not to have a good time out here." Athletes who registered will proceed to the state games, May 13-15 in Bozeman. The area games included athletes from Chinook, Big Sandy, Chester, Harlem, Hogeland, Malta, Rocky Boy and Havre. "We actually serve more places than that," Lewis said and added that the small size of areas means that there may be "only one person in each area, or none sometimes." The games overall are "a pretty awesome experience," Lewis said. "Once someone comes to an event like that, you're hooked forever." To get involved as an athlete or a volunteer, call Lewis at HHS at 265-6731. (Havre Daily News photojournalist Nikki Carlson contributed to this report.)


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