By CRISTINA JANNEY
Two Hays Special Olympics athletes returned from the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle last week, both with fists full of awards.
Kacey Dannels and Joseph Reed both participated in track events.
Reed won silver medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. He placed fifth in the 3,000 and sixth in the 4X100 relay.
Dannels placed fourth in the mini javelin, fifth in the shot put, seventh in the 100 and was also on the Kansas 4X100 relay team that placed sixth.
Both Reed and Dannels are athletes in The ARC of the Central Plains program and run with the local 5K Club, coached by Noalee McDonald-Augustine of Hays, who was the track coach for the Kansas team in Seattle.
The Special Olympics USA Summer Games are conducted every four years. They attract athletes of varying abilities from all 50 states. The participants ranged from 8 years old to athletes in their 60s. Both Dannels and Reed had to complete a lengthy application process to be selected to participate in the games. They also participated in fundraising for their trip.
Although winning medals is great, both of the athletes and their coach said meeting other athletes from across Kansas and nation was the best part of the games.
“It was a lot of fun getting to meet new people,” Dannels said. “We became close with team Kansas. I have several people on Facebook who have added me. We talked. It was awesome to meet everyone.”
Dannels said she became close with a fellow team Kansas tennis player as well as an athlete from Maryland.
The athletes stayed in dorms in an Olympic-village style setting. All of the Kansas athletes stayed on the same floor, which tightened the bonds between the team members.
The athletes were given pins representing their home states. They were encouraged to trade the pins as a means to become acquainted with athletes from other states. At closing ceremonies the athletes could trade T-shirts.
The athletes participated in a health fair at the games as well. Brooks Sports gave away new running shoes to any athlete who completed at least four stations of the health fair. Dannels brought home a new pair of shoes. She also received a new mouth guard from another station. The Lions Club performed vision screenings and gave away glasses and sunglasses to those who needed them.
“It was so neat that they came prepared for all of us,” Dannels said. “They were treating us like we were athletes. We had all sorts of levels, and they treated everyone like they were at the same level instead of one lower and one higher.”
Dannels and Reed with other members of the Kansas team watched their teammates participate in bocce and tennis. The team also took a boat tour of the harbor and a Mariners game, which was Joseph’s first trip to a professional baseball game.
Dannels said she enjoyed opening ceremonies and getting to march into a stadium full of people. As the athletes made their way from the dorms to the stadium, people lined the walkway almost a mile to cheer for the athletes. Members of Dannels’ family made the trip to Seattle to cheer for her during her competition, and Joseph had his own cheering section.
“It was nice that we had that support and people willing to travel and come up and see us,” Dannels said.
Both athletes said the competition was tougher than at their state meets.
Reed ran very closely with an athlete from Florida. He said the runner pushed him to go faster. He finished his 10K in 48:08, which was about 4 seconds faster than his previous personal best.
“It was hard,” he said. “We pushed each other.”
McDonald-Augustine was impressed with not only Reed’s performance, but her other Kansas athletes and the whole field of competitors.
“Not just Kacey and Joseph, but I had two other track athletes from Kansas,” she said. “All four of them performed great. They worked hard, certainly gave it their all. It was just really awesome to see them compete against others of similar and higher capabilities.”
She said some athletes were running the 100 meters in high school and college times. One of the runners in another section of the 10K posted a time of 35 minutes. McDonald-Augustine really said high performing athletes help inspire others to push themselves further.
Dannels’ next goal is to compete at the national games again in four years in Orlando. Reed is training for a half marathon and hopes to run in the Prairie Fire half marathon in October in Wichita.
The ARC is always in need of volunteer coaches. To learn more, contact Brent Kaiser, activities director, at 785-639-4010 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.