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State Summer Games: Family volunteers 100,000 steps

By JODIE JACKSON JR. | Special Olympics Missouri

Powerlifters, swimmers, volleyball teams, and track and field athletes were the stars of the first Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) State Summer Games in three years. One family of volunteers also shined especially bright.

The Tran family of Columbia, representing The Crossing Church, were among some 200 volunteers with #ForColumbia2021 that amassed to help at the SOMO State Summer Games June 5 at Hickman High School. Consider that Trung Tran, the patriarch of the family of five, recorded 20,000 steps on his fitness tracker. Multiply those steps by five and that’s a whopping 100,000 steps.

That’s the equivalent of about 47 miles.

A photo of the Trung Tran family, superstar volunteers at the 2021 State Summer Games.
Superstar volunteers: The Trung family, from left: Meredith, Tran, Nancy, Rachel, and Zach.

Trung and Nancy Tran, along with their three teens Rachel, Meredith, and Zach, led track and field athletes from their event’s finish lines to the awards tent set up in the parking lot next to the Hickman baseball field. With some 530 track and field athletes and scores of events, that was a lot of back and forth from the track to the awards tent.

And even at the day’s end, the exhausted family was still all smiles.

“We spend a lot of time together,” said Rachel, the youngest at 13. “But we’re in good moods today.”

The family laughed at that and agreed with Rachel’s favorite observation about the day: “They’re all such good sports. They cheer each other on.”

Trung Tran added, “This is the true meaning of athletics. They do it for the joy of competing – and I enjoy the family atmosphere.”

Nancy Trung shrugged off the suggestion that she and her family were volunteer rock stars for their above-and-beyond commitment.

“We just like to do something where we can serve and it makes us feel good,” she said. “And we probably get as much out of it as any of these athletes do. We’re glad to do it.”

Zach Trung recalled seeing one runner who was ahead of the pack stop and go back to help up another runner who had fallen. Each member of the family had similar accounts of the hot, busy day.

The lighting of the Flame of Hope to start the 2021 State Summer Games in Columbia, Mo. on June 5.
Jared Niemeyer, left, and Mark Priebe light the Flame of Hope to open the 2021 State Summer Games in Columbia, Mo.

The State Summer Games were scrubbed in 2019 because a tornado two weeks before the event heavily damaged the Jefferson City SOMO headquarters, disrupting statewide operations. The 2020 State Summer Games fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s meant a lot” to help with the State Summer Games, said Meredith Trung. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It just feels good to be out in the community and meeting a bunch of new people.”

In addition to the track and field athletes, the State Summer Games had three volleyball teams, 26 swimmers, and 28 powerlifters – the largest number of powerlifters in a SOMO competition. The State Summer Games also featured comprehensive health and wellness screenings and the SportsZone, which provided a shaded section for cooling off, socializing, and Healthy Minds screening.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for SOMO concluded at the Opening Ceremonies, culminating with the lighting of the Flame of Hope.

“The Games were sidetracked by a tornado in 2019 and the COVID pandemic in 2020,” said SOMO President and CEO Susan Stegeman, “so our athletes were really looking forward to this.”

More than one athlete described the event as a family reunion.

“It just makes me feel happy and full of joy. Last year when COVID hit, I was like lost,” said Leah Shoemaker of St. Joseph. “I just love the atmosphere of people doing what they’re doing. We’re like huge family. That’s what it is. I’ve missed that.”

St. Joseph athlete Leah Shoemaker competes in the running long jump at the Special Olympics Missouri 2021 State Summer Games.
St. Joseph athlete Leah Shoemaker competes in the running long jump at the Special Olympics Missouri 2021 State Summer Games.

Shoemaker, who represented the North Area, has competed in Special Olympics for 16 years. She’ll graduate from the SOMO Athlete Leadership Program this year and become an athlete leader for her area.

“I’m trying to do my part as a leader to get athletes to stay healthy and keep on doing what they’re doing,” she said.

Michael E. Smith of the K.C. Metro Area is still relatively new to SOMO – five years of competition – and he was pleased with his day of track and field competition.

“I worked my hardest, but I stayed hydrated and in the shade when I was not competing,” he added. “It was pretty awesome.”

The June 5 State Summer Games was Brent Kampert’s first in Missouri. He’s been competing in Special Olympics 16 years now. Kampert sported a headband with the word “INCLUDE.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose – just do your best,” Kampert said. “If you don’t meet a goal, just keep working.”

Brent Kampert, Special Olympics Missouri track and field athlete, shows the three medals - two gold and one silver - that he won at the 2021 State Summer Games in Columbia, Mo.
Brent Kampert, track and field athlete and gold medal winner in the 100 meter run in Special Olympics competition in North Carolina, Illinois, and now Missouri.

Kampert completed a rare trifecta of gold by winning the 100-meter run. He also has won the 100-meter gold in North Carolina and Illinois Special Olympics games. Kampert added silver medals in the javelin throw and the running long jump.

“I’m just really glad God has given me the gift of running,” he added, noting that he was making connections that he will continue beyond SOMO competitions.

“It feels good. I’m glad we’re back,” he said.

Kampert, a Special Olympics North America health messenger, also volunteers with athlete leadership and fundraising.

“It keeps me busy and it also helps spread the word,” he said.

Anna McDaniel wore three gold ribbons from her day in the swimming competitions.

“It’s just fun to be here competing,” she said. McDaniel is also an athlete leader and is one of the more active SOMO athletes on social media and with SOMO@home, the virtual programs SOMO staff initiated last summer in response to COVID restrictions.

“It’s been nice to be able to still be with friends and see people, even though you weren’t able to see them in person. That just kept me motivated,” she said.

Leadership programs and being able to connect with others are SOMO features that McDaniel especially appreciates.

“SOMO gives more athletes the opportunity to be able to do the training, be a coach, or be a health leader,” she added. “They’re able to do so much more beyond just sports.”

The 2021 Summer Games were sponsored by SOMO’s statewide partners – Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Missouri, Knights of Columbus, University of Missouri System, Diamond Pet Foods, and Missouri Association of Student Councils. Sponsors also included Southwest Dairy Farmers, Zimmer Radio Group, Columbia Missourian, MFA, Bass Pro, Jersey Mike’s, Atkin’s, and Spirit of ’76 Fireworks.

As the day of State Summer Games competition wound down, track runners were cheered and met by Lucky Ogbomo at the finish line. Ogbomo, the lead employment consultant for Job Point in Columbia, was another volunteer who said he was enjoying the competition as much as the athletes.

“I’m just passionate about helping the the community and helping individuals who need support. For me, I see this as a blessing to be able to be a blessing to others, to come in here and volunteer,” he said.

Volunteer Lucky Ogbodo of Jefferson City congratulates a runner at the end of a race during the 2021 State Summer Games.
Volunteer Lucky Ogbomo of Jefferson City congratulates Braden Schott (St. Genevieve High School) at the end of Braden’s race during the 2021 State Summer Games at Hickman High School in Columbia.

Ogbomo also saw a race leader stop and help a fallen runner, basically forfeiting any medal.

“You don’t see that often,” he said. “This is how we learn as human beings, how to uplift each other. When you see someone down, you help. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or who they are. If you are in a position to help, you help someone up.”

Ogbomo concluded: “That’s part of what we are learning here. And I’m learning, too.”