Athletes have been pumped for the reopening of the Arizona Special Olympics in Glendale following a two-year break due to the pandemic.
More than 1,500 athletes flocked to Raymond Kellis High School on May 6th and 7th to take part in the event and watch their fellow participants compete in track and field, volleyball, powerlifting, and other activities.
“To say we are excited for the Summer Games to return would be an understatement, we can’t wait to see all the athletes back in action,” said Special Olympics Arizona President and CEO Jamie Heckerman in a press release.
The event provides invaluable resources for the athletes, families, and spectators who attend. Students from Kellis High were able to watch participants achieve feats of physical prowess in spite of their limitations, which teacher David Thistle described as an “easy discussion… because they get to see it, they get to feel it.”
Heckerman asserts the importance of giving these athletes exposure. “We get to provide opportunities that our athletes would not typically get,” she says. “The typical population doesn’t have the awareness, so they see our athletes as not wanting those opportunities, and that’s just simply not true. They want to be seen as a normal member of society, whether that’s in their school program or out in their community.”
Heckerman adds that “not having [the Special Olympics] for over two years has really impacted socially our athletes.” The games offer the athletes the chance to socialize with families, other members of the local community, and of course other athletes. Heckerman states, “Social interaction with their peers, friendships and just being a contributing member to society are things that I think are even more important than the physical aspect of competing in sport.”
The games also featured Special Olympics Arizona’s Healthy Athletes program, which provided the athletes free medical screenings and mental health education as well as sports physicals, podiatry, physical therapy, dentistry and audiology. Heckerman has noted that the organization has grown significantly over the past 10 years.
“We recognized that while we were addressing sport, we weren’t addressing our athletes holistically,” said Heckerman. “What we do locally is find volunteer clinicians that are certified to provide free screenings to our athletes. Whatever our athletes need to be the healthiest versions of themselves is really what we strive for.”
Special Olympics Arizona is more than a seasonal sports event: an uplifting, community-based effort to provide exposure, socialization, resources, and recognition for Arizona athletes regardless of the everyday challenges they face, and many are happy to see it finally return.