FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) — Once all the Northeast Indiana Special Olympics teams arrived in Fort Wayne, the athletes were ready to go.
For competitor Charlene “Stretch” Miller, her strategy for the day was simple:
"Meet friends, meet other athletes from different counties and just do your best," Miller said.
Over 100 athletes with a wide range of ages and skillsets competed at Woodside Middle School Saturday morning.
Noble County Manager Jenifer Holbrook says everyone was thrilled to be back together after over a year without in-person events.
"We’ve met a lot of our friends from other counties that we’ve gone through for several years together," Holbrook said. "So just high-fives, hanging out, having snacks and stuff, just building, again, that friendship that they don’t get to do or haven’t been able to do for so long."
Saturday was especially important for bringing together athletes who struggled with access to sports and competitions throughout the past year.
"I know it’s still touch and go with the COVID and everything, but just to get them out and moving their legs and arms and so on and so forth, means they’re not totally closed in," Miller said.
Miller ultimately won a gold medal in the mini-javelin toss.
But Holbrook says awards were the least of the athletes' cares.
In fact, she saw nothing but...
"Large smiles, lots of laughter, high-fives, congratulating each other and not worrying if they got a medal or not. It was just again about that friendship coming back together," Holbrook said.
Holbrook says the athletes are already preparing for summer Special Olympics events, after this year’s late start to the schedule.
Some athletes had been working to stay in shape through virtual trainings, but Saturday's event marked the first time since the start of the pandemic they could all meet in person.