Sunday, July 21, 2024

Chelan Special Olympics builds friendships, community, and confidence

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CHELAN – In early 2023, when Sarah Hudkins was looking to move her family to Chelan, she was worried about opportunities for her son Trenton. 

Trenton had been involved in the Seattle area Special Olympics from a young age. 

Before they moved, she joined the Facebook group Chelan Valley Strong and saw some posts for online meetings about bringing the Special Olympics to Chelan.

"And so prior to even purchasing a home over here, I joined those Zoom meetings just to kind of collaborate and to learn more, and to try to share some of my knowledge from being a participant of Special Olympics on the other side of the mountain, and was really just so excited that Special Olympics would be coming to Lake Chelan," she said. 

"It was definitely a concern of mine moving with an adult son, who had always participated in Special Olympics since a young age, moving somewhere that didn't have those opportunities and didn't have that community," she said. "And so when I found out that they were going to be coming to Chelan, I just felt super blessed to be a part." 

Brooke Sanders, a coach for Chelan Special Olympics, said the group started about a year ago when the Special Olympics signed on to be a partner with the Chelan Community Center.

With the help of a grant, the group was able to get started. Since then, the group has had a couple of fundraising events and is working to get the word out and grow their team of athletes, Sanders said. 

The group is on the lookout for more athletes and a pool space so that the athletes can work on their swimming skills.

"So each season, we can do a different sport," Sanders said. "So previously, we've done soccer, bocce ball. Bowling was in the fall, and then basketball is now in the winter. So each season, we're trying to do a different sport."

"Right now for basketball, we have four (athletes), and they are just so awesome," Sanders said. "It's so fun."

They practice once a week at the Manson High School.

Sanders said she appreciates that her athletes get to be part of a team with the Special Olympics. 

"Oftentimes in high school, it's hard for people with intellectual disabilities to be part of a team and to feel like they're part of something, you know," Sanders said. "So it's been really cool that they can have this team, and they have jerseys, and we have team names, and we see each other every week, and it's, it's been really cool to see the connections that the athletes can make with each other."

"But also, it's been really awesome to see connections between parents too, because I'm sure it can feel lonely, and in our area, there just aren't a whole lot of like group homes or really options for people with disabilities," she said. "So it's been really cool to see the connections that they've made."

Over the summer, the Hudkins family moved to Chelan, and through Chelan Special Olympics, they have made friends and connections that have allowed them to build a supportive community.

Steve Hilde is an assistant coach for Chelan Special Olympics, and his son Michael is an athlete. Michael has been involved in Special Olympics for about 15 years, Hilde said. 

"We were actually involved on the west side of the mountains in the Seattle area," Hilde said. "And we moved over here last November. So we were just so happy when this program started. Because Michael could continue to be involved with Special Olympics."

In the fall, Michael won his division at the bowling regionals and then went on to win a gold medal in bowling at the state Special Olympics.

Michael, Trenton, and the other athletes became friends while bowling together for the Chelan Special Olympics.

Even the parents forged friendships. Now, the families get together every week outside of Special Olympics to go bowling together. They often get together for coffee and other outings and even have a group text.

"I've personally come into a new community, but you know, just having that relatability, we've, we've talked about everything from, you know, snow tires, to keep ourselves and our adult children safe, to doctors and you know, our kids are on social security and looking for caregivers and other outings that we can take them on, even beyond Special Olympics, right," Hudkins said of the group text. "And so it's just, it's given just this immense sense of community. That I'm not sure would have been here had Special Olympics not brought us all together this fall."

Hilde said Michael feels a sense of accomplishment as an athlete in the group and enjoys the social aspect as well. 

"And then I think as a family for my wife and I, again, it's just the fact that he can get out, he can get some exercise, and we love to watch him compete," he said. "And even we've met so many other families and athletes over the years and just made so many friends. It's just a wonderful program. We absolutely love it."

The Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a pioneer in the fight for the rights and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. It has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than five million participants all over the world.

Today, the Special Olympics is a global movement to create inclusion and community regardless of ability or disability. It provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and empowers athletes with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities beyond those learned in sports. 

Special Olympics Washington serves more than 19,500 participants, offering 26 sports to a wide range of age groups.





Quinn Propst: 509-731-3590 or quinn@ward.media

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