Ohio’s Special Olympians returning to sports and family

Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Niles Dowe has not lifted weights in more than year. But Thursday evening, on a field outside Centennial High School, Dowe was suddenly a strongman competitor.

“It’s all coming out today.” Dowe says. “We want to make sure that we’re out of the house and not be so bored all the time.”

Dowe was among the competitors in one of the first Special Olympics events staged in Ohio since the start of the pandemic last year. Athletes gathered for a strongman contest, featuring farmer’s carries and weight throws. The event signaled an end to the isolation so many special athletes endured last year without much contact with their peers and friends.

“Miserable” is how Special Olympian Chris Barnett described it. He’s been competing in the games for more than 25 years.

“Oh, we’ve been talking about this for two weeks… three weeks… four weeks.” Said Julie Barnett, Chris’ mother.

“I’ve seen a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time… Special Olympics is our family. It’s meant everything to us .” she said.

About two dozen athletes competed, with coaching and oversight from volunteers from the Hilliard Police Department. Parents and family members gathered by the dozens to keep the return to competition lively.

“Having so many people come out and support the athletes is amazing.” Said Special Olympics coach John Essen. “You can see kind of that glint is back in everybody’s eye where they start to feel everything’s normal.”

As important as physical activity remains for the athletes, coaches say social skills and overall mental health should significantly improve as practices return to typical numbers.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned about Special Olympics now is yes, we are a sports program but the social part of stuff is so much more important.” Essen says.

“I’m hoping I’ll stay in as long as I can, until I’m ready to retire.” Dowe says.

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