Special Olympics gives residents chance for competitive thrills

The Elk/Cameron chapter of Special Olympics PA (SOPA) will be hitting the lanes once again when its bowling series begins this Saturday. Diane Bon, bowling coach for the local chapter, has been involved with Special Olympics and the bowling program for over 30 years."I went there one Saturday just because I heard people talking about it, and I've been there ever since," she said of the Saturday bowling events. Bowling will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. at the coincidentally titled Olympic Lanes located off the Million Dollar Highway in St. Marys. Bon noted that of the various activities offered through Special Olympics in the area, bowling is the most popular. "It is our best program. We usually have between 50 and 60 athletes every Saturday morning. They love it," she said. Jean Pearsall, the manager of SOPA Elk/Cameron, has been with the organization for over 33 years. She said in addition to bowling over the winter months, local athletes can also showcase their prowess in track and field, basketball, volleyball and floor hockey. Special Olympics, which was founded in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband Sargent Shriver, began as a day camp in the couple's backyard. The first International Games were held in 1968. Today, the organization boasts participation from athletes in 170 countries. Special Olympics provides children and adults with intellectual disabilities with training and the opportunity to compete in Olympic-style sports. Through the program, they improve physical fitness, have fun, and develop self-confidence and respect for themselves, as well as help the public understand that every person has value. Pearsall noted that when the local chapter was established, there were three athletes. Now, there are approximately 122 participants in Elk and Cameron counties who benefit from the experiences of traveling to competitions all over the state, seeing new places and meeting new people. "It's really good for the athletes," she said. "It gives them a chance to be around other people, to learn to compete in something, and to feel better about themselves." According to Bon, the Special Olympics program in the dual-county area has participants ranging from 6 years old to people in their early 70s. "If they're (physically) capable with track and field, we have a lot of older individuals that participate in that. Maybe they're not a runner, but they can do a jump or a shot put or something that fits their capacity," Bon said. She explained that the athletes train hard and compete hard. "It's competitive. If they're chosen to go on to state and area games, they're elated," she said. Pearsall agreed, adding, "Whether it's a medal, a ribbon or as a team, they're so proud of what they've accomplished."For more on this story, see the Jan. 4 edition of The Daily Press.