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WRHCF hits all the pins with Worthington Warriors SO bowling grant

A Worthington Warriors Special Olympics athlete plaxced first in a recent competition. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
Worthington Warriors Special Olympics volunteers and athletes. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
The Worthington Warriors engage in a workout at the Worthington Area YMCA track. (Submitted photo)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — With its recent grant award of $1,700 to the Worthington Warriors Special Olympics team in support of the group’s bowling season, the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation (WRHCF) board has notched a perfect game.

“They have so much energy that we’re happy to be helping the kids and adults involved in the local Special Olympics team,” said Jeff Rotert, WRHCF’s executive director.

“Bowling and related costs are some of the highest expenses they have, so while this isn’t necessarily a big grant, it makes a huge difference for them — and we want to see their program continue to grow.”

Revitalized locally three years ago, the volunteer-led WWSO plans year-round activities and competitions for nearly three dozen area athletes, sharing a goal that’s a neat match play with the WRHCF’s mission of supporting the region’s overall health and wellness.

“Special Olympics is mostly about competition and team sports, but we’ve also been branching out to talk about broader issues of health and fitness,” said Amy Roesner, head delegate for WWSO.

“We now have 40 athletes who participate in ‘SOfit’ (Special Olympics Fitness) during the fall and winter seasons, and that focuses on eating correctly, making healthy decisions, not watching TV all the time and getting up and moving more often.”

The SOfit sessions begin with 20 minutes of goal-setting, health and fitness instruction and socialization (for instance, making eye contact when greeting people) and progress to 45 minutes of exercise, ranging from games to fitness dance to yoga and more.

With a state Special Olympics bowling competition set for Dec. 1, though, the WWSO crew is currently focused on logging the required minimum of 10 hours in the lanes prior to that date.

“An athlete has to have 10 hours of bowling practice and be at least 8 years old in order to compete at the state level,” detailed Roesner.

“We started getting our ducks in a row during August, and bowling practice started in September,” she continued. “We go every Friday night to a bowling alley in Sibley, Iowa — a lot of bowling alleys around have been closing, not just in Worthington — and it takes a little time to get all 32 of our bowling athletes through their games, but they do a great job and cheer each other on.

“It’s an exciting group of people we work with, so it’s a good time.”

Renting bowling shoes, paying for games and commuting require money, and that’s where the WRHCF grant stepped in.

“In Worthington, we strive as a group to keep Special Olympics free for everyone who wants to participate,” said Roesner, adding that anyone with an intellectual disability may qualify for SO.

“Certain sports, like bowling and track, cost more money to do, so we approached the WRHCF with a grant request to help with the bowling expenses.”

Roesner, who has been the WWSO’s head delegate since mid-August after previously serving as a head coach, pointed out that SO continuously promotes healthy living goals for its participants in more ways than many people may realize.

“Every time there is a state meet or games event — even at the state bowling tournament — SO provides so many healthy opportunities for our athletes,” Roesner explained.

“They are offered vision and hearing tests, dental checks, overall health reviews, and podiatrists check feet — it’s just a great opportunity for them, and a lot of our athletes count on these events for their yearly health checkups.”

The rewards of SO extend well beyond the athletes, easily reaching their families and touching the volunteers who give of their time to make SO activities and competitions a reality.

“At my first Special Olympics event, I was very overwhelmed and I had to cry several times,” said Roesner, whose 13-year-old son, Brayden, is an SO athlete with Down syndrome.

“It’s amazing what SO brings to a games event, and what SO does for each and every athlete. When Brayden was at Prairie Elementary, he was included in many sports and activities, but beyond that, he wanted to be on a team — and we didn’t have one here at that time.

“When I found out one was forming again, we jumped on the bandwagon right away.”

So did Tammy Larson of Worthington, enrolling her now 17-year-old daughter, Sara.

“It’s something to keep her active, and promotes the health and well-being of all the athletes,” said Larson. “It’s rewarding to see all of the athletes do things to the best of their abilities — and it’s fun, they’re appreciative and we enjoy it.”

Roesner said she would love to see more school-age kids involved in SO — SO is open to people of all ages, and the local group ranges in age from 8 to about 65 — and additional volunteers would be a boost.

“Anyone is welcome to help,” said Roesner. “If we had a few more volunteers, then we could host an event here, which would be wonderful.

“If you know of anyone who might be interested in Special Olympics — kids, neighbors, friends, relatives of any age — please let me know, because it has a lot to offer.”

In the three years since SO has been revitalized in the Worthington area, Roesner has seen the number of athletes involved jump from 10 to 40.

“There’s been a lot of growth in their physical and social skills, too,” observed Roesner. “Many came in kind of timid and are now the life of the party.”

Roesner and Larson both mention another aspect of SO that inspires them: the high level of sportsmanship that pervades all SO activities and competitions.

“The mutual encouragement the athletes offer each other is inspiring,” said Roesner. “It’s not something you see all the time in everyday life.

“Even if someone gets disqualified or falls down, everyone out there goes to the finish line to cheer them and give high fives,” she added. “It’s opened my eyes to great things.”

And with more going on than bowling, SO — governed by a board of directors known as the Leadership Management Sports team which meets monthly — keeps things rolling throughout the calendar year.

“There’s also track and field, power lifting, swimming, softball and SOfit,” listed Roesner. “We’re busy year-round here in Worthington.”

That’s the type of health-supporting energy that prompted a positive response from Rotert and the WRHCF board when reviewing the WWSO’s grant request.

“Their direction is good and we’re happy to be able to lend some support,” said Rotert. “We want to help where we can, and we’d like to think this can help them continue to grow.”

For more information about Worthington Warriors Special Olympics MN, to make a donation or to volunteer, contact Amy Roesner at 329-6983. Watch social and traditional media outlets for news of the WWSO’s annual fundraising event in late winter/early spring 2019. Visit wrhcf.com for information about the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation, its scholarships and grants.

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