Stage set for State Summer Games
Team Missouri selection camp also in June
“We’re baaaack!” There just aren’t enough creative ways to write it or enough exclamation points to emphasize the fact that Special Olympics Missouri competitions returned to aquatics centers, area tracks, weight rooms, soccer fields, gymnasiums, and other venues four weeks ago.
And after a two-year hiatus due to a tornado and the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Summer Games are just three weeks away, set for a one-day event on Saturday, June 5, at Hickman High School in Columbia. Three weeks after that, on Saturday, June 26, the Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City will host SOMO’s 50th anniversary bash and the start of the Team Missouri Selection Camp for the 2022 USA Games next summer in Orlando, Fla.
SOMO CEO Susan Stegeman recalls going “from a tornado to a pandemic” – SOMO had barely been in the world-class Training for Life Campus six months when the twister hit – and the two-year absence of the State Summer Games. The communications staff and the Health and Wellness staff teamed to launch SOMO@home to provide virtual training and events in 2020 and the 35th year of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® also became virtual.
Relief and deep emotions.
While SOMO leadership and staff remained busy and became even more creative with ways to engage SOMO athletes, volunteers, and partners, if any clouds remained, they certainly lifted with the March 23 website announcement, “We are back!”, as track and field practices got started again across the state and planning went into high gear for Area Spring Games. Finally, dates were going on the calendar in pen, rather than hopeful pencil.
Naturally, elated relief and deep emotions accompanied the “We are back!” announcement.
COVID still hasn’t disappeared, and SOMO is still exercising due diligence to keep athletes, coaches, volunteers, and staff safe. Visit https://somo.org/returntoplay to see how SOMO is still following COVID protocols.
“Our athletes have so much positivity and life,” said Vice President of Programs Trish Lutz. COVID quarantines and lockdowns that changed life and interactions across the globe, were especially tragic for SOMO athletes who thrive on the connections, social interactions, and opportunities Special Olympics is known for.
“It just broke my heart,” Lutz said. “It was like we went back in time” when those opportunities were not so readily available.
At the first Central Area track meet in April, Lutz enjoyed a light breeze and a warm glow of the sun on her face. That’s when a long-familiar but missing sound completed the picture: Clanking medals as athletes walked past.
“It was like music to my ears,” she says with a couple of tears welling up in her eyes. “I knew I missed in-person events. Just watching them complete, watching a race …” Lutz’s voice trails off and she smiles. “We’re back. Our athletes are back, doing what they love.”
As COVID restrictions begin to lift and athletes have the benefit of being together outside where comfort levels are higher, “We’re finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” Lutz says.
Canceling the 2019 State Summer Games due to the EF3 tornado that slammed Jefferson City and the Training for Life Campus created a pent-up sense of urgency and eager anticipation into 2020. Then there was COVID.
The anticipation for the 2021 State Summer Games has only intensified, though the look of the games will be somewhat different. Rather than staging a Friday evening through Sunday, three-day weekend event, the 2021 State Summer Games will all take place on Saturday, June 5, to account for ongoing COVID protocols.
“It’s just not as grand as we would really like it to be, but it hasn’t adversely affected the athletes,” Lutz explains.
‘Jumping for joy.’
How do the athletes feel about the return to play and both ongoing events and the upcoming State Summer Games on June 5?
Seasoned SOMO athlete Derek Sandbothe, campus host at the Training for Life Campus and often the first face visitors see when they enter the building, encourages anyone not familiar with Special Olympics to visit the campus, come to an event, and, most of all, “see the athletes.”
“See how hard they try. They set aside their disabilities – especially now,” Sandbothe adds. “They are going to be absolutely jumping for joy. It’s definitely going to be something to see.”