Local Athletes On the Right Track

Here in Naperville, the Olympics are still inspiring audiences. Local residents recently cheered on more than 800 special athletes at their own Olympic games.

The Special Olympics are designed for people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

“They don’t always get a chance to stand out and this is an opportunity for them to be able to be noticed for some of the things that they can do,” Coach Joe Nikkel said of the event.

Athletes of all ages started training twice a week in March. But sixth grader Ben Paulson said he got a head start in running when he was only 18 months old.

“It just feels like I accomplished a goal in my life,” said Paulson after getting a second-place medal.

“They get an opportunity that they may not have in school,” said his proud mom, Tracy Paulson. “It’s just a great way to come out and help them feel good about themselves.”

The Special Olympics allow the athletes and their families to experience the thrill of a race and to measure their growth as competitors.

Athlete David Burke, for example, started racing when he was only 7 years old. He would wave to the crowd and look at his shadow. “But now he’s 18 and he really understands what it’s like to compete and he’s doing really well,” said his mom, Judy Burke.

More than 400 coaches and volunteers say the experience is just as rewarding for them.

“This is my first year with Special Olympics and it’s been a blast,” said Coach Beth Hawkins. “Just seeing all the kids race and be successful and just seeing the smiles on their faces is the best.”

Coach Zach Digney agreed. “I just give them a little guidance and enthusiasm and they do all the rest and they all have fun so it’s awesome.”

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and every time I come to one of these events, I’m inspired by our athletes,” said Area Director for Special Olympics Illinois Sandy Hutchins. “They never cease to amaze me and whether their achievement is a quarter second faster or 3 minutes faster, it’s amazing what they can do.”
The gold medalists will go on to compete in the state finals at Illinois State University June 17th through June 19th.

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