Sixteen local athletes competed in the 2013 Special Olympics Alaska Summer Games in Anchorage the weekend of June 7, winning the second-place silver medal in basketball and setting individual personal records in swimming.
The basketball competition began with the Homer team challenging Juneau.
“They ended up getting beat and getting discouraged in that game,” said Carol Shuler, Homer Special Olympics’ volunteer community director.
Not about to give up, however, Homer turned that discouragement into a winning strategy.
“They came back and won the next two games to make it into the championship round,” said Shuler of the Homer team finding itself back on the court with Juneau.
“They had almost no energy left by that time, but they played their hearts out. They never gave up and kept trying,” said Shuler.
In a score of 21-12, Juneau took the championship gold, with Homer nipping at their heels.
“I was really proud of them for coming back and winning that silver medal,” said Shuler. “I was talking to the coach (Russ Radliff) and he said it was a great defensive game.”
Homer swimmers, coached by Ruhiyyih Baker, competed in numerous events at the summer games including backstroke, freestyle and butterfly.
“They almost all got their personal best,” said Shuler. “They continued to work hard between locals and state, a three-week period, and their times were considerably better at state than at locals. All the hard work paid off.”
Baker and Radliff “did a great job and our Homer athletes really represented Homer well the whole weekend,” said Shuler. “They had great sportsmanship and good attitudes. It was a great trip.”
Nicolle Egan, Special Olympics Alaska vice president and COO, also had praise for the southern peninsula teams.
“The Homer community athletes and coaches represented the best in sport at the 2013 Special Olympics Alaska Summer Games,” said Egan. “We can never thank enough the volunteers such as Carol Shuler, the volunteer community director, along with the community management team coaches and family members.”
More than 250 athletes from eight communities across the state took part in the Summer Games. The June 7 opening ceremony featured guest speakers Bill Kazmaier, three-time World’s Strongest Man, and gymnast Chellsie Memmel, 2008 Olympic silver medalist. Events included aquatics, athletics, basketball, gymnastics and powerlifting.
Shuler and Egan also acknowledged the community support that made it possible for the athletes to compete.
“I would like to acknowledge and to thank all donors and sponsors and the Alaska Law Enforcement Torch Run in Homer,” said Egan.
“The entire community is truly making a difference by giving individuals with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to be successful through sports that carries throughout our great state of Alaska.”
The Torch Run, a fundraising 5k fun run coordinated by Homer Police Officer Ryan Browning, was held May 18. On May 11, a “Dunk the Fuzz” and go-cart fundraiser, also coordinated by Browning, was held as an additional fundraiser for Special Olympics. The two events raised more than $7,500.
“The money helped pay for travel costs to Anchorage,” said Shuler.
In addition, the funds raised also will help local athletes develop a bocce court.
“The courts they compete on at state are wooden, have four-inch walls and artificial turf on the bottom, so we need to get supplies and build courts they can practice on that will be like the ones they compete on at state,” said Shuler. “We needed extra funds for that, which we got between Dunk the Fuzz and the Torch Run. They were awesome fundraisers.”
Golf also begins soon and Shuler said partners are needed to work with the athletes. Anyone interested can contact Shuler at 235-9264.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homer athletes competing in the 2013 Special Olympics Alaska Summer Games included:
Amber Becker, swimming
Larry Bonfiglio, basketball
Dennis Daily, basketball
Jeremey Day, swimming
Josh Delie, basketball
Eddy Escalera, basketball
Brent Escolta, swimming
Nikolai Gordeev, basketball
Shaunti Johnson, basketball
Johnnie Jones, basketball
Myrna Kuchenoff, swimming
Nicholas Kvasnikoff, basketball
Kinna Ledger, swimming
Amber Loop, basketball
Robert Reeves, basketball
Scott Trails, swimming