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Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games Celebrate "Spirit of Inclusion"

Special Olympics Iowa athletes, volunteers, coaches and spectators have converged on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. (SpecialOlympicsIowa.org)
Special Olympics Iowa athletes, volunteers, coaches and spectators have converged on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. (SpecialOlympicsIowa.org)
May 20, 2016

AMES, Iowa - More than 2,600 athletes - plus their friends, families and thousands of spectators - are converging in Ames this weekend for the Special Olympics' Iowa Summer Games. The opening-ceremony crowd Thursday night filled Hilton Coliseum.

While the competitions are a main focus of the weekend, said Special Olympics Iowa chief executive Gary Harms, something else just as important is experienced by everyone as the athletes first enter the stadium.

"In the high-five line and the fist-bump line you see smiles, you see joy," he said. "You see the simplicity that is that which is involvement in Special Olympics Iowa."

Athletes competing in cycling, soccer, tennis, aquatics and track-and-field events this weekend are expected to draw sizable crowds at the games, which are free to the public. However, Harms said, a more recently added competition has really taken off.

"Bocce is a sport that has just become explosive in the Special Olympics world," he said. "Matter of fact, we've expanded it to two days."

Besides the athletes gaining valuable experience by competing, Harms said, everyone in Iowa can learn something from the Summer Games.

"The spirit of inclusion is alive and well in the state of Iowa," he said. "It needs to continue to grow. We have to educate and create awareness - but inclusion is what our athletes desire."

Harms said it's helpful to see beyond the athletes' so-called disabilities.

"Our friends with different abilities, just like you and I have different abilities, that's really all our friends who are defied as 'individuals with intellectual disabilities' have," he said. "You know, for example, we have people that will be swimming tomorrow. I swim like a rock."

The Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games continue today and Saturday in Ames.

More information is online at Special Olympics Iowa's website, soiowa.org.

Bob Kessler, Public News Service - IA