Special Olympics returns after 3 years

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Published: May. 19, 2022 at 7:56 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - With the onset of the pandemic, the Special Olympics had to put their activities on hold. Finally, after three years, the Special Olympics has returned to both the state and the nation.

On Monday, May 16, the Special Olympics held a basketball game at the Student Recreation Center, at UAF, to prepare for the state wide games coming up next month. It has been “three years” since they have been able to get together for activities according to Special Olympics Coach Mary Bunten. Due to the varied nature of the many disabilities that the Special Olympics athletes have, the program was heavily hit by Covid-19 which forced many of the athletes to stay in their homes for a majority of the pandemic. Here it the Tanana Valley, this meant that the “core group” of athletes that had been participating would soon cease to hold the number of participants that originally competed.

But, with the first game of basketball the program was able to get enough volunteers and athletes to put together a solid team. Many of those who volunteered to play on the opposing team were friends or family of the athletes, most of whom have taken on a volunteer position in the program in the past. Mark Graham was one of those individuals, however he had primarily been a coach until the game for which he took a neutral position as the referee. For Graham, the important part of the Special Olympics is showing the athletes that they are indeed a “part of a sport that everybody loves.”

Thanks to people like Graham and Bunten, the athletes have been able to regain their skill but it wasn’t without lots of work. While training one athlete conversed with Bunten about their retention of basketball skills saying “it’s been three years coach Mary, what do you expect.” But some of these athletes have also been practicing at home, players such as Ryker Garcia who comes from a basketball family. Garcia often plays basketball in his drive way with his brothers who, “help [him] be a better basketball player and they push [him] to get where [he] is today.”

The best part of the game for many who participate however mostly comes from seeing development in the athletes and playing with the people they enjoy being around. Graham expressed a sense of pride and joy when he said his favourite part of the event was seeing the skills they worked on “manifest” and including the “camaraderie of everybody coming together.” For Garcia, he was just happy to be “playing against [his] brothers and playing with []his] teammates.”

The state wide games will take place in Anchorage starting on June 24.

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