14th Annual Winter Special Olympics Games Arrive
By Melissa Maynarich, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Special Olympics athletes are happy the 14th Annual Winter Games are inside.
The frigid temperatures aren't getting in the way of competitions in volleyball, basketball and bowling. Bowling is the most popular event in the Winter Games. In Oklahoma there are more than 1,500 athletes competing today. And they're all spread out, at six alleys across the metro.
Everyone's equal on the lanes at Boulevard Bowl.
"I love bowling; I'm practicing every night, this week, Wednesday is great," Special Olympian Erin Heenke said.
After training year-round, Special Olympians compete in the preliminaries before they make it to the Winter Games.
"These events, they look forward to, they practice, they train and this is huge," Special Olympics Volunteer Gary Henderson said.
The event is huge for people like Heenke. She just won first place.
"I had my Mom here and my coach and all here," Heenke said.
The mission of the Special Olympics is to provide sports training and athletic competition in a variety games for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The minimum age is eight, but there is no maximum. Some bowlers are even "striking" their 70s.
"This program means so much for them, for their self-respect, for them to show their athletic abilities, for the teamwork, the concepts of team work," Henderson said.
And it doesn't end at the Winter Games. Training continues and qualifying athletes are spared an end to a season they love so much.
"Those who get first place in the winter games move onto the state games in the summer," Henderson said.
If bowlers qualify for the summer games, they'll be competing again in May.
Nearly 10,000 athletes participate in the Special Olympics each year in Oklahoma. There are 15 official sports.
Tune in tonight to NEWS 9 at 5 p.m. to see the athletes in action.