Torch run kicks off official Special Olympics event in Western New York

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) –  The Special Olympics has been in New York since 1969 and now more than 300 athletes here in Western New York are ready for this years competition.

For the 31st year in New York State, law enforcement officers carry the special Olympics flame of hope throughout the our communities leading up to opening ceremonies.
Saturday’s Torch Run leg kicks off the 2017 Western Region spring games at Tonawanda High School.

Deborah Fleetwood, Event Coordinator, said, “They’re high five-ing, they’re hugging, they’re helping, they’re getting ready for their events, and we have their opening ceremonies, and they’re so excited. We highlight these athletes and that’s what this is about.”
Each athlete trains for 8 weeks to participate in this event, and if they do, they can move on to state, nationals and even worlds.

Fleetwood said, “They are an athlete just like any other athlete, and they will prove to you that they can do it.”

It costs about $500 dollars to sponsor one athlete, and everything is volunteer driven. For competitors, it’s all worth it.

Reid Heinrick from Hamburg is an all-star fundraiser and out of all the sports he tries, he has a favorite. His mom, Jeanne, said, “For a lot of these kids, they don’t have the opportunity to do things and to be active, and this gives him the opportunity to do that. So he learns how to be a part of the community, and it teaches him health how to stay active and be healthy and he has friends where a lot of these kids don’t.”
Its not always easy. For Robert Wally, who suffers from dystonia, sometimes training can be painful. He said, “I can feel it in my muscles, contracting right here.”
But that doesn’t stop him from getting the nick-name, “fast feet,” and scoring multiple first place titles in his track and field events. He said, “I’ve been going through track and field for a long time, and I love it,”

Erica Raepple is the Director of Development Special Olympics, Western New York Region. She said, “The look on their faces, and just how proud they are to accomplish something and they’ve been training for 8 weeks, so they’re putting their heart into this and this is the final event.”
The state games are at Sienna College June 15th and 16th.

More than $2.1 million was raised last year for athletes through LETR fundraisers in New York. Since its inception, more than $10 million has been raised through fundraisers providing training, equipment, venues, uniforms and transportation for hundreds of thousands of Special Olympics New York athletes.
Special Olympics New York has 68,547 athletes across the state compete and train in Olympic-style sports throughout the year, always at no cost to them or their families.
If you’d like to volunteer or learn more about Special Olympics, click here.

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