By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer
Kyle Girdner said he’d rather throw a ball than walk any day of the week.
“I like throwing better than walking,” Girdner said. “I like everything though. All of my friends are out here, and all of these ribbons are fun too.”
Girdner was one of 370 athletes who participated Saturday in the Cherokee Country Special Olympics Track and Field, Motor Skills and Under 8’s day at Indian Bowl.
The athletes participated in events like the shot put, softball throw, turbo javelin and partner walks. While they competed for ribbons, each athlete who showed up and participated qualified for a chance to go to the state event in Stillwater.
Stacie Harris, the Cherokee Country Special Olympics area director, is in her first year of coordinating the event. She said it took a lot of hard work.
“It was difficult, but thanks to the people who have more experience and the volunteers, it’s been a huge success,” Harris said. “We have a wide variety of athletes who participate. Some are capable of running a mile or a pentathlon by themselves, and others require help from a partner to compete.”
The athletes and spectators were in high spirits during the competitions, generously handing out verbal praise and excitedly slapping high-fives with teammates and friends. Each first-, second- and third-place finisher in the events would stand on a podium to receive a ribbon and a hearty round of applause from the crowd.
Harris said about 100 people showed up to cheer on the athletes.
“We need to promote it better next year,” she said. “That way we can get more fans in the stands. Seeing the smiling faces of the athletes, it means so much. This is their day.”
In addition to the staff running the event and the sponsors on hand to help the athletes, volunteers abounded to give encouragement and helping hands. Included were several fraternities and sororities, as well as athletes from Muskogee High School.
Gustavo Huerta, Travis Jones and Breyer Eaton, all sophomores and football players for MHS, were waiting on runners of the 50-meter dash at the finish line with open hands and smiling faces. All three said the volunteer experience made them feel good.
“It’s good for these kids to be out here competing,” said Eaton. “It’s good for them and us.”
Jones echoed the sentiment.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “They know what they’re doing out here. They’re good at what they do.”
After a week of rain, partly sunny skies and no precipitation cooperated with the athletes, although the high winds affected events like the turbo javelin and softball throw.
Girdner, who has competed in the Special Olympics for 12 years, placed second in the softball throw. His mother, Teresa Girdner, said he loves it.
“It’s so fun and exciting,” she said. “Just to see everyone get together in the spirit of competition and special needs. We get to see how everyone else does, and it’s just fun.”
Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or tsloat