For Steamboat Springs bowlers Debbie Linthicum, Misty Garcia, Don Pearce, Jeff Dockstader, Tim McClenathan, Jesse Rudnick, Myles Barber and Seth Sobeski, last weekend's Special Olympic Championships in Aurora marked the end of an eight-week journey.
"The athletes in this program started practicing back in September," Horizon's volunteer Mike Dwire said. "It's a pretty big commitment for them, but they had to show us they were serious."
All of the bowlers who took part in the state championship first needed to participate in the regional championships, which took place Oct. 4 in Rifle. After the regional tournament, the team practiced four more weeks before the state tournament, which took place Friday and Saturday at Aurora Lanes.
"We had 19 different participants who took part in the program this year," volunteer coach Mike Bieron said. Bieron is one of two volunteer coaches who helped organize practices, arrange travel to competitions and keeps the team moving ahead.
"This program isn't about winning; it's about participation," Bieron said.
The Steamboat athletes who participated this year were rewarded for their hard work with top finishes.
Garcia and McClenathan pocketed gold medals in the event. Jesse Rudnick brought home a silver medal, while Sobeski and Barber received fourth-place finishes. Linthicum placed fifth.
The team is a partnership between the Knights of Columbus and the Horizons Specialized Services. Coaches Joe Bender and Bieron are members of that group.
Bieron said the funds to support the team each year come from the Tootsie Roll drive. Athletes, coaches and volunteers offer Tootsie Rolls for donations.
"Joe (Bender) and I are just the administrators," Bieron said. "The community is really the grease that moves the machine through the Tootsie Roll drive."
The money raised helps pay for practices, state entry fees, travel and lodging while the team is on the road. Bieron and Bender provide the team with support and guidance during the season.
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in Olympic-style sports for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
Each year, more than 500,000 individuals participate in Special Olympic programs in the United States in more than 20,000 communities. More than 1 million athletes are served worldwide in more than 150 countries.
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