By Kevin Kelley
Just about everyone knows that 16 days from now the world’s greatest athletes will compete for gold medals in London at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. But this Saturday, another set of Olympians, many with just as much enthusiasm as their London counterparts, will compete at the stadium of Westlake High School.
For the third straight year, the Westlake Special Olympics will welcome dozen of competitors with intellectual disabilities. Sponsored by the Westlake Kiwanis Club and the Westlake City Schools, the event begins with opening ceremonies — including a torch procession – at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Competition in nine track and field events follows. Events include the 200-meter run, a 50-meter wheelchair race and the softball throw.
According to Russ Milan of Westlake Kiwanis, 60 athletes, ranging in ages from 10 to 60, will compete Saturday.
Milan and his wife, Linda, were given the title of 2011 Mr. and Mrs. Westlake for their volunteerism in the community, including his support of disabled persons.
A longtime Kiwanis member, Milan suggested the group become involved with Special Olympics at a club meeting. Members said they’d be happy to help, recalled Milan, who is now certified to be a state-level Special Olympics coordinator.
“It’s probably one of the most rewarding things that anyone would ever want to get involved in,” Milan said of his association with Special Olympics.
Milan has also been advisor to the Westlake Kiwanis’ Aktion Club, a service organization for adults with disabilities. (The “k” in Aktion stands for Kiwanis.)
Milan’s son-in-law and daughter-in-law worked with intellectually disabled persons professionally, he said, and that’s how he became interested in helping them.
Around the same time Milan and Kiwanis sought to bring the Special Olympics to Westlake, interest also arose among special education teachers at the Westlake City Schools, including Doug Kuns, Milan’s son-in-law.
“I had staff members approaching me saying, ‘We’d love to do this,’” explained Stephanie Morgan, the school district’s director of student services. Staff members had become aware that other school districts were sponsors of Special Olympics, Morgan noted.
The competition means a lot to participants, Morgan said. All athletes receive medals in recognition of their efforts. According to reports from parents, many participants sleep with their medals for days following the competition, Morgan recounted.
Morgan encourages the public to come out Saturday to watch the competition.
“That’s one of the things we love to have – a big crowd to cheer our athletes,” she said.