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Local athletes train for Special Olympics

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RONAN — Athletic competitions foster everything from personal growth to physical and mental toughness. They inspire everyone from coaches to spectators and athletes to try to better themselves and those around them, hence the term “sportsmanship.” 

Unfortunately, many sporting events have taken a turn, celebrating the defeat of the individual rather than the victory of having tried.

There is one sporting event, however, that still celebrates the act of giving one’s all rather than the outcome of winning. That event is the Special Olympics.

Special Olympics events are unique for many reasons, but those seeking both brevity and depth need look no further than the athletes’ creed: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” 

Mission Mountain Enterprises in Ronan is a private, nonprofit corporation seeking to provide “high-quality, community-based services to individuals with intellectual disabilities.” A staple in the community since 1975, the center plans to send about 12 clients to the Five Valley Regional Special Olympic Games in Missoula April 24-26. Events include floor hockey, bocce ball, track events, cycling, powerlifting, bowling, golf and many more.

MME community support professional Kent Newsam said Special Olympics Montana purchases a brand-new Chevy six-passenger, full-size truck to raffle every year. Raffle tickets cost $5 and all proceeds go, in some way, toward the Special Olympics.

“Gosh, I can’t remember what the numbers are, but they probably sell 100,000 tickets for $5 per ticket,” Newsam said. 

Newsam added that MME has already sold around $1,500 worth of tickets. For every ticket MME sells, it receives $1, while the remaining $4 goes back to Special Olympics Montana for costs related to facilities and running competitions around the state. 

“The weightlifting competition is pretty amazing,” Newsam said. “I saw some guys there in Missoula that were, I mean, a guy my size is benching 280 pounds. That’s an incredible amount of weight for somebody my size to be lifting, and it’s a lot of fun, too.”

Newsam said there is a social component to the games as well, with a dinner and dance taking place at the games’ completion. 

“Most of our athletes just like to compete,” he said, adding that he presides over several competitions every day (like collecting the most donations from local business) with many of his clients.

“It’s just really a fun event to go to. It’s an opportunity for people to see our guys having a great time. From my end of it, I think I enjoy it more than anything else out of the year. It’s a volunteer-driven organization and it’s been good.”

MME athletes train three days a week at the tribal fitness center in Ronan year-round, lifting weights, running, walking and stretching. Ronan High School athletic director Lucky Larson allowed athletes to use Ronan’s track complex for time trials, and athletes bowl every month — a popular event at the games. 

“As a coach, you encourage them to train a certain way, and then it’s up to the individual athlete as to how much they want to train,” Newsam said. 

In the fitness center last Friday, athletes trained hard for their respective events, but never lost their smiles as they jogged, walked and lifted weights. 

David McCullough, working out on a bench press machine, said he was training for his favorite event, bowling, and that his dad had taught him how to bowl. 

“I’m excited for (the Special Olympics Games),” McCullough said. “I like getting strikes.”

At this, MME employee and fitness center volunteer Shawn Schlensker said McCullough could be a bodybuilder if he wanted, then poked fun at his University of Washington shirt and said, “LSU is a better team.”

McCullough smiled and gave Schlensker a gentle shove, saying, “In your dreams,” before returning to his workout.

“I like fitness, and I think everyone should get in shape,” Schlensker said. “But, I don’t care if they lose weight or not. 

“It’s just good that they try.”

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