Special Olympics athletes earn trip to state track meet

By: Sarah Stortz

Stepping into the UNI-Dome in the early morning of Sunday, March 6, a high sense of energy and enthusiasm could be easily detected as Leo Arnaud’s “Bugler’s Dream” resonated within the Dome while groups of volunteers and students marched promptly around the field, displaying flags titled with their school district’s name.

When every school stood in the middle of the area, a torch was wheeled along the track and a flame was ignited, marking the start of the 2016 Iowa Track and Field Special Olympics.

Since 1986, Cedar Falls has a kept a proud tradition of hosting the District event at the UNI Dome for giving special needs athletes the opportunity to participate in athletic competitions.

The track and field olympics offers a wide variety of events such as softball throw, long jump, mini javelin throw, shot put, 50 m dash and walk, 100 m dash and 200-400m dashes.

This year, the Cedar Falls school district was represented by junior Taryn Ackerman, senior Troy Wilson, sophomore Alec Vetter and senior Jacob Brustkern, along with a couple of other students from the two junior high schools.

The results for districts were Ackerman earning 2nd place for both softball throw and the 50 m run, Brustkern earning 1st place in the 50 m run and 2nd place in the softball throw, Wilson earning 2nd place in the softball throw and 1st place in the 50 m walk and Vetter earning 1st place in both the 100m dash and 4×100 relay, as well as 2nd place in the shot put event.

With three of these athletes ranking 1st in their events, they gain eligibility to attend the State tournament in May.

In preparation for this event, all of the athletes were trained by Peet Junior High teacher Jan Williams, who has served as their head coach since 2011. During the past two months, the athletes went through a trial of each event in the Dome events to figure out which category they were most interested in.

“Events such as Special Olympics allow our athletes to compete with others with similar abilities,” Kelly said “It promotes a great sense of pride in their accomplishments, as well as gives them several chances to be part of a team and grow both socially and in their independence.”

As for the results from districts, Williams’ response was overwhelmingly positive.

“I am very proud of these athletes and excited for them to compete at the state level. It is also a great experience for them to be able to stay with the team in Ames for three days,” Williams said. “My favorite part is seeing the athletes trying their hardest, seeing them improve in their abilities and independence, and seeing the smiles on their faces when they do well.”

Aside from the coaches and volunteers, the athletes received additional support from their friends and family on the benches.

Special needs teacher Tammy Frahm attended the event to watch her students and was overall delighted with their performances.

“If you go [to the Special Olympics], it makes you see that [these students] are thrilled to be there and participate, whether they place in first, second or third,” Frahm said. “It really makes them feel like they’re part of a bigger event and that they’ve accomplished something.”

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