Special Olympics Michigan holds State Summer Games after 2020 cancellation
After being cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Special Olympics Michigan was able to bring the summer games back for hundreds of athletes.
Supported by volunteers, police officers, medical staff and more, the event included races on the track, shot put and the mini javelin toss. The games began at 1 p.m. and went until almost 4 p.m., with overcast clouds that kept up the pleasant temperature and barely held off the rain.
Saginaw Chippewa Police Officer Howie Hanft has been involved with Special Olympics for 36 years. Throughout the day, Hanft’s voice could be heard booming across the field as he announced the medals and podium standings for almost 200 athletes at this year’s games. According to Hanft, this year’s showing was a small portion of what it was in years past, having had around 2500 athletes compete at previous games.
“The athletes--one thing about them is they’re so happy,” Hanft said. “They’re so excited and they’re always willing to help people. If everyone was like them, (police officers) wouldn’t have a job. They take care of each other.”
Dearborn athlete Alfred Podczervinski, 29, has been coming to the Special Olympics with his parents, Dane and Denise Podczervinski for 10 years. In his heats, he earned fourth place in the 100 meter dash and first in the mini javelin toss.
Dane, Alfred’s father, said he gets emotional every year watching Alfred compete. The games are meaningful to his family in a way that cannot be found almost anywhere else, Dane said.
“It doesn’t matter who gets first or last, everybody gets the same applause,” Dane said. It’s about socializing with friends.”
“It’s an opportunity for the athletes to participate in something that doesn’t make them feel different,” Denise, Alfred’s mother, said. “It’s so important for that.”
Katie Vanoeveren has been an athlete at the special olympics for eight years. After winning a gold medal for shot put, the event is her new favorite. Along with the other athletes at the event, Vanoeveren was happy to be participating in the games again and getting the chance to compete side by side with her friends.
Scott Jakovac, a member of East Lansing’s Knights of Columbus, came to support his cousin Emily Jacobs, who ran track events at the games. The Knights of Columbus hold multiple fundraisers throughout the year in support of the Special Olympics, including Tootsie Roll drives and raffles.
“It’s a fun program to support and you can’t go wrong with it,” Jakovac said.
James Hohler, a volunteer who helped run the mini javelin toss, said the decrease in participation is because of the pandemic and a smaller number of available events, such as bowling and swimming. Holhler said his favorite part of the games is seeing all of the athletes and volunteers who return year after year.
“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” Hohler said.
The summer games continued on July 17, from 9:00 am to 1 p.m. with more events, including bocce ball.