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SOMO changes lives at 2023 State Outdoor Games

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JEFFERSON CITY – The 2023 Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) State Outdoor Games brought out the best in more than 1,000 athletes, coaches, volunteers and Unified partners from across the state, Oct. 13-15.

The Games not also sparked great competition, but they also provided a life-changing opportunity for SOMO athletes. We’ll get to that in just a bit!

“While the weather did not want to cooperate through much of the weekend, all of our staff, volunteers, coaches, Unified partners and athletes were able to adapt and overcome,” SOMO Sr. Programs Director Luke Lamb said. “All competitions and other planned events were completed, and we were able to see the hard work of our athletes and their coaches pay off.”

This year’s Games featured five sports: bocce, flag football, golf, tennis and softball. They were held at Binder Sports Complex, Blair Oaks High School, Firley YMCA, Oak Hills Golf Center, Adkins Stadium and SOMO’s Training for Life Campus. The theme this year was Aloha SOMO!

“The friendships, joy, sportsmanship, smiles and laughs were flowing even when the weather was not so pleasant,” Lamb said.

The State Outdoor Games officially kicked off with the Opening Ceremony at Binder Sports Complex on Friday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. KRCG’s Zach Paul emceed the program. The Lincoln University Marching Musical Storm put on an amazing show. There was also a special musical performance from SOMO’s President & CEO Larry Linthacum.

During the ceremony, the entire Mizzou softball team threw out the first pitch to our SOMO athletes. Head coach Larissa Anderson’s team also volunteered at the softball individual skills competition earlier in the day.

The Opening Ceremony culminated with the lighting of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Flame of Hope! This year, SOMO athlete Fernandez Liddell carried the torch with Master Sergeant Jeff Fugett from the Missouri State Highway. SOMO Super Plunger J.T. Gerlt declared the Games officially open, and the celebration continued with a fireworks show!

Sportsmanship was on full display throughout the weekend. This year, SOMO presented two Eunice Kennedy Shriver Sportsmanship Awards to Kansas City Metro Area athlete Shyanne Pyatt at the Wentzville Midnight Express flag football team.

Pyatt stepped up during the weather delay at bocce. She helped SOMO staff and volunteers set up equipment while it was pouring down rain.

“I feel so happy right now,” Pyatt said after receiving the award. “I didn’t know I was getting this.”

The Midnight Express displayed excellent sportsmanship throughout the flag football competition on Sunday. They were constantly supporting their teammates as well as members of the opposing team. A few of them even joined the SOMO Spirit Squad in cheering on every team!

“These guys are fantastic,” Wentzville coach Cathy Zytgo said. “They have hearts bigger than gold, and they’re proud of this award right here.”

Along with the competitions, SOMO also held its health and wellness clinics. Healthy Athletes and Sports Zone. SOMO provided 406 free health screenings in the following disciplines:

  • Special Smiles
  • FUNfitness
  • Fit Feet
  • Health Promotion
  • Healthy Hearing

As for Sports Zone, SOMO had the following number of participants in each station.

  • Hydration: 159
  • Fitness + Recovery: 110
  • Social Emotional Health: 107
  • Pledge Wall: 70
  • Nutrition Education: 107
  • Kanjan: 57
  • Cornhole: 32
  • Washers: 64

“Many laughs and smiles were present within Sports Zone, and that is a huge part of what our goal was – to provide the athletes with a fun, educational, safe and welcoming environment in between games,” SOMO Health Partnership Manager Maci Arnold said. “Thanks to all our volunteers that made this happen. We could not have done it without them!”

The non-sports highlight of the weekend was Healthy Hearing. SOMO was so excited to have representatives from Starkey Cares Foundation onsite to fit SOMO athletes in need with free hearing aids. In total, Healthy Hearing and Starkey Cares were able to serve 85 athletes and fit 39 of them with free hearing aids. That is approximately $312,000 worth of free hearing aids for SOMO athletes!

“It was a very rewarding and emotional experience, as many athletes has the biggest smiles when they could hear better and many parents had tears because they were so grateful their son or daughter had this opportunity,” SOMO Health Partnership Director Carol Griffin said. “For me, it was a night to remember as I received several hugs from athletes in appreciation of their new hearing aids!”

SOMO athlete Amanda Mowers was one of the athletes to receive free hearing aids. The 41-year-old always knew she needed hearing aids, but she was never able to afford them – until now. She extended her sincerest thanks to Starkey Cares for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I can hear now,” Mowers said. “It means a lot because before I couldn’t hear anybody talk to me, and now I can. It’s good!”

Along with getting free hearing aids, Mowers also won two gold medals in bocce.

This is the first time Starkey Cares has provided free hearing aids at a SOMO state event.

“Seeing the joy this event brought to the inspiring athletes – through pictures – was incredibly heartwarming,” said Denise Cardona Barners, Special Olympics Inc. Sr. Clinical Program Manager. “I am sure it enabled them to showcase their talents and feel a true sense of community.”

Students from Washington University were on hand to help throughout the Healthy Hearing clinic. Special shoutout to Dr. Ortmann and her team for staying late in order to service each and every one of our athletes!

SOMO is dedicated to improving the overall health and fitness of its athletes, not only through organized sports training and competition, but by also providing free health screenings through the Healthy Athletes program. These screenings are provided for SOMO athletes free of charge. These are incredible opportunities for the SOMO athletes. For more information on these free health screenings, visit

SOMO cannot thank all of its volunteers enough for their hard work all weekend long. It is a true team effort to put on a state event. Of course, thank you so much to our sponsors as well!

Statewide Partners: Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), Missouri Association of Student Councils (MASC), Diamond Pet Foods, Veterans United Home Loans, Knights of Columbus, University of Missouri System, University of Missouri and MU Health Care.

Gold Sponsor: KRCG-TV