Photo by Chris Rogers
Sierra Strand, of Rochester, (foreground) was overjoyed as she crossed the finish line during the relay event at Winona Area Public Schools' Special Athletic Competition last Friday. Strand's teacher Heather Walter (background) said Strand had been looking forward to the event all year.
A small boy's eyes narrowed with concentration as the steady call boomed, "Three, two, one..." The boy flung his arms as hard as he could, turning the wheels of his chair. He sped forward, past hundreds of cheering fans, towards the finish line.
Hundreds thronged the indoor track at Saint Mary's University last Friday for the Special Athletic Competition hosted by Winona Area Public Schools. From Lake City to Lanesboro and Caledonia to Rochester, 21 schools sent teams made up of special needs students, some with physical difficulties and some with cognitive disabilities that make it hard for them to participate in typical athletic programs. The Special Ahtletic Competition gives them a chance to be recognized, participate, and have fun with friends. The Saint Mary's University indoor track was packed with spectators and participants in various events from frisbee toss to relay races.
"This is something [participants] look forward to every single year," said long-time event volunteer Julie Beth.
"The look on their faces—it brings tears to your eyes," volunteer Kae Brand said. "They just glow."
"You look at what is happening for these kids — the excitement and warmth. It makes you happy to be alive," volunteer Al Beth said.
When asked what she thought of her race, Sierra Strand, of Rochester, said, "I liked it! Fun!"
Her teacher, Heather Walter, said Strand had been practicing all year for that moment.
"I'm super excited," said multi-event athlete Mikki Stark-Schendel, of Winona. The best part, she said, was seeing all her friends.
Special Athletic Competition Coordinator Molli Kook thanked the sponsors, donors, and volunteers who made the event possible.