Iowa Special Olympics to kick off in Ames today

Abbie Moeller

Every athlete dreams of being in the Olympics. For some of the most special athletes in Iowa, this dream will come true in Ames starting today.

The Summer Games for the Iowa Special Olympics start today, with 3,200 participants and 1,500 volunteers who will help make the dream come true.

Many people have planned an exciting few days that will give these special athletes the chance of a lifetime.

Competitions for these athletes are held year-round, but the Special Olympics Summer Games is the highlight of the year.

“This is by far the largest event,” said Kathy Agard, outreach and training director for the Iowa Special Olympics.

“The Ames community has always been very giving of their time for this event. They are very supportive,” volunteer coordinator Jan Williams said.

Individuals from all over the state will be volunteering in a variety of areas, including coaching.

Two volunteers from Ames, Katie and Dan Butcher, have been coaching Special Olympians for three years and will be receiving the Coach of the Year Award.

Aside from details every coach has to know, Dan Butcher said they need to have extra compassion and patience, especially when it comes to knowing “the limits of your athletes.”

The athletes’ abilities range from those of high school varsity athletes to wheelchair-bound individuals.

Dan Butcher said these varying abilities make creating a team atmosphere a challenge.

“[They] have to feel this is a team, and they have to work together to go out and win the gold,” he said. “The hardest thing to deal with is when they don’t win.”

He said a lot of time is invested in trying to make the kids feel a part of the team and community, and that losing is hard for them.

Katie and Dan Butcher coach several sports, including swimming, track, cycling and soccer. One of the unique events is unified soccer, in which half the team is made up of Special Olympians and the other half is coaches.

“I feel like I have a close relationship with my athletes as it is,” Dan Butcher said. “[When we play unified soccer], I am equal to them in their eyes.”

Dwaine Brown, a 24-year-old Special Olympian, said he likes to play any sports, including unified soccer.

“It’s different. You get to work with the staff, and they are on the team,” he said.

Brown has been participating for three years and also volunteers for the Iowa Games and the recent Tae Kwon Do championships in Ames.

Because participation in sports and on a team creates the atmosphere that is key to the development of a positive self image, Dan Butcher said he and his wife coach sports year round.

The Special Olympics Summer Games is only one of the events that Katie Butcher helps to coordinate as director of the local Active Lifestyles chapter.

Their “kids,” as Dan Butcher calls the athletes, range in age from 8 to 54 years old, and many participate in lifetime sports such as swimming and bowling.

Dan and Katie Butcher are moving to Manhattan, Kan., at the end of the summer, where Dan will continue his education.

He said the past few months have been pretty emotional for them.

“We’re sure going to miss [the Butchers],” Brown said. They have been his coaches the whole time he has been participating. He said he will continue to compete, though.

“[The sports] are always fun,” he said.

The statewide competition starts at 10 a.m. Thursday with roller skating and soccer.

Tennis, cycling and the race walk will be held later in the day. Thursday will conclude with the 30th anniversary opening ceremonies at 7:30 p.m. at Jack Trice Stadium.

“Big events are taking place at the stadium for the 30th anniversary celebration,” Williams said.

The parade of athletes at the 50-yard line will kick off the ceremony, followed by the torch run. The torch will be run by police officers to the stadium and will be taken by four special Olympians to the lighting of the Special Olympic flame.

Awards will be given for the best coach, volunteer and Special Olympian. The recipients are selected from nominees from all over Iowa.

An F-16 fly-over, parachuters and fireworks will be some of the activities in the ceremonies, as well as speakers and the Special Olympic Oath.

Friday’s events will include track and field events such as 50- and 100-meter runs, standing and running long jumps, shot put and softball throw.

The pentathlon, which includes a little of everything, aquatics and the developmental events also occur Friday.

The developmental events include wheelchair races and the tennis ball throw.

A western concert will be held at Hilton Coliseum Friday night.

The longer track events will be held Saturday morning with only a small closing because many of the participants leave as soon as their events are done.

The traditional gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded, as well as ribbons up to eighth place. Participation ribbons will be given to any athletes who tried but could not finish the race.