In a little over a month, two young men from Central Oregon will join more than 4,000 other athletes at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. If the games this year are as successful as the 2014 games in Princeton, New Jersey, were, Zachary Herrmann of Redmond and Micah Webb of Culver are in for a special summer.
The Oregon delegation to the games, which will be held July 1-6 in Seattle, includes 27 athletes, four unified partners (people without disabilities who are paired with disabled athletes in some sports), eight coaches and five staff members. For about a week they’ll eat together, compete together, attend a Seattle Mariners baseball game, celebrate July Fourth with a barbecue and a dance and just generally have a good time. They’ll be housed in a dorm at the University of Washington.
The Special Olympics USA Games are a very big deal, indeed.
All athletes are gold medal winners in their home states. They’ve practiced and competed successfully at home and, in Oregon and no doubt elsewhere, they’ve had a full weekend of training as a group. They’ll join men and women on 51 other teams from around the United States. Oregon’s athletes will travel in style, with a range of brand-new gear, including clothing, supplied largely by Nike.
For Micah Webb, 19, of Culver, this will be his first trip to Seattle. He’s a bowler in the Jefferson County Special Olympics program who has been involved with the program since the third grade. Bowling is a sport he loves, he says, and one he’s been at a long time — since he was 6 or 7 years old. He’s been a Special Olympian nearly that long.
Central Oregon’s other USA athlete is Zach Herrmann, 22, of Redmond, a golfer on the High Desert Special Olympics team. He’s spent the last two years on the golf team and has come to love the sport. Herrmann is a volunteer peer mentor in the Redmond School District’s transition program for students with intellectual disabilities from graduation through their 21st birthdays. Like Webb, he has never been to Seattle.
The USA games are a lot like local Special Olympics programs in many ways. They rely heavily on volunteers — some 10,000 will be involved in Seattle, not including coaches. Some volunteers, medical professionals, will run the games’ wellness program, which provides free health screenings and educational events for athletes. They’ll be the extra hands needed in every sport, and one special group will become “Fans in the Stands” so that no athlete, no matter how far from home, will compete without a cheering section to root for him or her.
If my own experience with such things is typical, and I think it is, volunteers will get as much from their participation as the athletes will. I am awed, at practice sessions and at competitions, at athletes’ work ethic in the face of, for some, what seem like almost insurmountable challenges.
For now, Oregon team members are raising money for the trip at app.mobilecause.com/vf/SOOR. Special Olympics is not cheap. No athlete ever is asked to buy his or her own equipment, pay for travel to out-of-town events or supply food on such occasions. In addition, the organization provides the same amenities to volunteers, whose numbers also add up. All that means fundraising is critical and must go beyond major efforts like Tip A Cop and the Polar Plunge.
I don’t know how well Micah and Zach will do in Seattle. I do know they’ll take the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.” I know, too, that they’ll live up to that oath, and they’ll work on being good sports no matter what happens.
And I’m reasonably certain they’ll have the time of their lives. I wish them the best of luck.
— Janet Stevens is deputy editor of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-617-7821, email@example.com