MUSCATINE, Iowa–From June 5 through 12, 12 Special Olympics Muscatine athletes will compete in the USA Games, the most the organization has ever sent. Before the athletes traveled to Orlando Florida with Team Iowa, their well-wishers organized a sendoff for them in Fuller Park May 27.
For 19 years, Special Olympics Muscatine Interim Coach Tim Atkins has helped coach athletes to the USA Games, which take place every other year, and knows how big an honor getting to compete in them represents. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience, and its a big event,” he said.
Once athletes arrive in Orlando, they will attend a large opening ceremony. When not competing, they will get to spend time in an Olympic Village filled with live music, games, events, and even celebrity visitors. Because the USA Games take place at Disney World, athletes will get to spend a day visiting the parks as well. At the end, an enormous closing ceremony will honor all of the athletes’ achievements.
This year, 10 Muscatine athletes, Chris Ashbaugh, Kevin Brockert, Angela Collins, Danielle Mally, Travis Moss, Brad Small, Jay Small, Eric StClair, Adie Strong, and Matt Trujillo, will compete in flag football as one of only 10 non-unified teams, meaning their coaches do not play on the team with them but coach from the sidelines instead. Since the team has not attended the USA Games before, they look forward to the opportunity to get know other athletes from around the country. Adie Small said she feels most excited, “to meet new friends.”
They also believe they will do well against the other teams they face. Chris Ashbaugh, who plays flag football because he likes getting, “good exercise and learning new stuff,” thinks the team will, “do good,” overall.
Corey Leonhard, a 40 year member of Special Olympics who has played for Columbus Junction and Muscatine, has attended three USA Games as well as two international competitions in China and Ireland. This year, he will assistant coach flag football for the first time. He hopes he can give athletes a positive experience like the ones he had. “I just want the athletes to have fun, do their best, and have the same experience I did when I was an athlete,” he said.
Two additional athletes, swimmer Adam Rininger and track and field runner Nathan Paulson, will also compete in this year’s USA games. Paulson feels quite excited to race. “I’m looking forward mostly to running in track and field, making new friends, and doing exercise I enjoy,” he stated. “I will run hard and strong and do my best.”
As the athletes celebrated the accomplishment of making it to the USA Games and got pumped to travel, their friends and families wished them the very best. Jill Strong, one of the organizers of the sendoff and the mother of athlete Adie Strong, wanted her daughter and all the athletes to get as much as they possibly could out of the experience. “This is a big deal,” she emphasized. “She’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime, and I just want her to live in the moment.”
Atkins shared Strong’s optimism for the athletes. “I feel like we’ll come back with a good showing,” he predicted.