ST. MARYS — The Auglaize County Special Olympics track and field had its first practice since the District competition at the Memorial High School track Monday evening.
There were athletes ranging in age from 8 to in their 60s, practicing everything from softball to track to wheelchair races. They were preparing for their next big competition, State, which will take place from June 28 through June 30 at Ohio State University’s campus in Columbus.
“All 88 counties in Ohio will be competing against each other,” said Rhonda Runnion, volunteer softball coach. “We’re very fortunate that in Auglaize County we have a very large and very well-organized Special Olympics. A lot of counties have almost lost theirs altogether. We have a lot of generous people in this county and they donate; we’re purely through donations. That’s how we’re funded.”
Runnion and her husband, Dana, have been helping with the Auglaize County Special Olympics since their son was 8; he is now in his late 20s.
“We usually take around 60-some athletes to state,” she said.”
There will be 51 Special Olympians participating in the State competition this year, in bowling, bocce, and track and field.
All teams are coached by volunteers who willingly give their time to creating an extracurricular activity for those who would not otherwise have one.
“We’re doing it mostly for the athletes — to build their self esteem,” Dana Runnion said. “They don’t fit in in the typical situations; athletic events and such. With all the extra activities that high schools do, you know, these kids aren’t included in that. I mean (the schools) do a great job teaching them, but as far as any outside things, we pretty much have to do that all ourselves.”
Participation is high every year, he said, and the athletes seem to love the activities.
Caroline Klopfenstein will be competing in the javelin throw. She has been participating in the Special Olympics for a long time, she said.
“I like it,” Klopfenstein said. “I like to walk to lose some weight. We’re going to Columbus to state. I can’t wait to walk around the track and throw the javelin.”
Kenton Stamm was practicing for his event, softball. He will also be competing in bowling.
“I did it last year, too,” he said. “I like doing Special Olympics. I like doing softball and walking around the track.”
Dana Runnion said it’s all about getting the athletes together.
“We’re trying to get the kids out and active,” Dana Runnion said. “And they’re with their peers.”
He said this upcoming state competition is one of the best things about the Special Olympics, for the coaches and for the participants.
“Going to state is a phenomenal thing,” he said. “To see athletes from all over the state and 88 counties, to participate in these events.”
He also stressed that the main goal in organizing these activities is to get the kids (and adults) out and active and having fun with their peers.
“I think it’s extremely important,” Rhonda Runnion said. “Just the awareness of how valuable special people are in our community; how they can all contribute, and how they’re able to do things just like typical people, you know, to their best ability. And we have all levels of abilities here. From wheelchair racing to ones who are able to run almost like (anyone else). It’s a very good event.”