Good Life

Special Olympics athletes carry friendships off the field

Katie Williams, of Clearfield, laughs with friends after competing in the 50-yard freestyle. The 2016 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games aquatic events were held at the McCoy Natatorium on the Penn State campus June 2, 2016.
Katie Williams, of Clearfield, laughs with friends after competing in the 50-yard freestyle. The 2016 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games aquatic events were held at the McCoy Natatorium on the Penn State campus June 2, 2016. nmark@centredaily.com

All good things must come to end — maybe.

On Saturday, the 47th edition of the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games drew to a close, sending 2,200 athletes from 51 different counties on their separate ways after three days of intense competition.

You could spend a long weekend just reading down the list of events — basketball, aquatics, tennis, softball and gymnastics, to name a few — so it’s not hard to believe that by the time Saturday’s closing ceremonies rolled around, the participants were ready for a break.

“Everybody at that point has done summer games as hard they possibly could,” said Michael Daley, central competition director for Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

Still, for many of the athletes, the spirit of the weekend lasts long after the games stop.

Christa Mereen, 28, is a global messenger for Special Olympics, an athlete who is trained to speak to groups and spread the word about what her mother refers to as her very favorite activity.

This weekend, she was one of 16 softball players, 14 track competitors and three bowlers to travel to Penn State’s campus from Bedford County.

Mereen herself is a multisport athlete — softball, track, snowshoeing, bocce, bowling, floor hockey and swimming. It’s the kind of resume that you accumulate when you’ve been participating in Special Olympics for 16 years.

For her, though, the experience has always been about more than the opportunity to compete. Before the games began on Thursday, Mereen listed all of the things that she was looking forward to over the weekend.

There were a lot.

“Seeing friends and meeting new friends. Also the competition, staying in dorms, the dance, Olympic Village, opening ceremonies, the Healthy Athlete Program. I guess all of it!” Mereen said.

Her mother, Marty Meeren, was on deck to serve as an alternate softball coach for the weekend. Winning games is nice, but she is ultimately keeping her on a different ball altogether.

“They learn to work together and to do their very best. It isn’t so much about winning as it is the joy and satisfaction that can only be realized from the cooperative effort of the entire team,” Marty Mereen said.

Trevor Chester, 41, favors the same approach.

The State College resident, who has been participating in Special Olympics for 29 years, spent the weekend competing in the unified bowling category.

“I like that I have gotten better over the years and working with a partner. It’s also fun seeing the pins fall down,” Chester said.

The partner in question is his mother, Diane Chester. She enjoys having the opportunity to bowl a few frames with her son.

“It keeps him active, helps him to try different things, make many friends, and helps him feel good about himself,” Diane Chester said.

Cindy Williams, of Kylertown, echoed those sentiments in reference to her daughter, Katie, who has been swimming with Special Olympics for five years.

Williams said that Katie, 25, always enjoys running into other athletes throughout the course of the weekend.

“Katie is a very social person, and I think that so has been a blessing for her. It has expanded her horizons and has given her opportunities that she may never have had. I think that she has made some lifelong friends,” Williams said.

According to Katie Williams, these friendships extend well beyond the closing ceremonies.

“I have become Facebook friends with some and text some all year long,” Katie Williams said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

  Comments