Gustavus hosting Special Olympics

The Gustavus track and athletics facilities will host an annual event this weekend that has the attention of many families in the southern Minnesota area. Sunday May 1 will mark the sixth annual Spring Games for Area 9 of Special Olympics Minnesota. Athletes from Blue Earth, Le Sueur, Nicollet and other southern Minnesota counties will gather to compete in track and field events, followed by a barbecue in Minnesota Square Park.

Fundraising for the event was assisted by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who sponsored a Fun Run April 17, donating all proceeds to Special Olympics Minnesota. The event is largely facilitated by the Gustavus Greeks. Every chapter of the Greeks volunteers during the Spring Games, as they have done for the past 11 years since the event was moved from Mankato.

About 150 athletes are expected to participate in the event, with the support of their friends and families. The size of the event requires a lot of help from volunteers, and the Greek system was more than happy to oblige. Past volunteers have shared their experiences with new members, and the history of the event continues to grow.

“I think past Greeks tell the new classes of Greeks how exciting it is to be involved with something that has such an impact on our community. I think it’s something that people look forward to,” Junior Psychology Major Danika Anastasi said. Anastasi is the Delta Phi Omega sorority Co-President, as well as the Community Service Co-Chair for Inter-Greek Senate.

Volunteers take on a variety of responsibilities before, during and after the event. They will be responsible for recording times and distances of track and field events, assisting athletes in being in place for their events and most importantly cheering and supporting the athletes as they compete.

“Last year I helped time the 300 meter event. As soon as [the athletes] finished, they were looking for hugs and high-fives and telling you how awesome you were for helping. You’re not only congratulating them, but they’re thanking you for being there,” Anastasi said.

“It’s a lot of fun seeing the [athletes] run through first, second place, even last place. Everyone is having fun,” Senior Biology Major and Phi Alpha fraternity Co-President Rob Craft said. “Seeing an [athlete’s] face light up because everyone is there supporting them … it’s a great feeling.”

Communications Studies Professor Kristofer Kracht will be speaking at the opening ceremony. Kracht has been connected to Special Olympics through his brother, who has competed in North Dakota for several years. Kracht said he values the opportunity given to the athletes by the event, and the sportsmanship they show to each other.

“Many of these athletes didn’t have the opportunity to compete in high school athletics, so to have the opportunity to compete here, to get that honor and distinction of being on the podium and receiving a medal – it’s their time to shine,” Kracht said.

The Special Olympics Minnesota organization plans events throughout the year, beginning in January with alpine skiing, followed by bowling, equestrian, softball, golf, bocce ball and other activities. There are 19 activities total that Special Olympics host, and it is continually adding more. Not all of these activities will be run during the Spring Games at Gustavus, because the event takes place primarily on the track and field complex.

“I feel extremely fortunate that Gustavus allows us to come and make use of their wonderful facility and also ask their students to be involved,” Sports Coordinator for Area 9 Mike Gottberg said.

“The more volunteers we have, the easier it is and the more enjoyable, and the more enjoyable we make the experience for the volunteers, the more likely they are to stay involved.” Gottberg is in his 29th year of volunteering with the program.

Anyone interested in volunteering can show up for the event, but if they have not attended one of the two training sessions, they should check in with a volunteer station for more information on donating their time. The event will be followed by a barbecue in Minnesota Square Park, and both athletes and volunteers are welcome to attend.