Special Olympians head to state

Eight Routt County athletes to compete in Greeley this weekend

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More than 1,000 athletes from Colorado, including eight from Routt County, will gather in Greeley this weekend for Special Olympics Colorado's 2004 Summer Games.

Joe Arnold, Misty Garcia, Bruce Rule and Sue White will represent Steamboat Springs and Horizons, while Clinton Koler, Rhianna Kresl, Marisa Lombardi and Jaimee Sexton will represent South Routt.

South Routt coach Jeanie Lombardi said the four athletes she's driving to Greeley are excited about their opportunity. All eight Routt County athletes fared well at the regional competition in Craig on May 8, finishing in the top three in most of their events.

There were 110 athletes at the Special Olympics Colorado-Western Area Summer Games in Craig several weeks ago. When the eight arrive in Greeley with their coaches to begin competitions in power lifting, track and field, and swimming today, 1,110 eager athletes will greet them

"I tell them it's going to be a whole other ballgame," Lombardi said. "The kids don't care. They love to go."

Only Marisa Lombardi had been exposed to Special Olympics competition before this summer, but her three teammates -- Koler, Kresl and Sexton -- wasted little time getting their feet wet in the swimming competitions in Craig. The only expectation the four had was that they were going to have a lot of fun. Jeanie Lombardi said they accomplished that and more.

"They were booking it," she said of the athletes during competition. "I've never seen them moving that fast."

Horizons counselor Ginny Cannon said the regional competition went well for Steamboat's adults, as well. The weather cooperated for those taking part in the outdoor track and field events. Three of them -- Arnold, Garcia and White -- will take to the track once again on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado. Rule also will compete in power lifting on the UNC campus.

"At the competition, all the athletes are fairly independent," coach Felix Iovanni said.

Iovanni said the four athletes Horizons is sending have been extremely dedicated to training for the regional and state competitions.

"(Arnold, Garcia and White) have generally been training three days a week, and Bruce has been training two or three days a week for about the last three months," Iovanni said. "These were the four that really wanted to go and dedicated some willingness to training time."

The 2004 Colorado Special Olympics includes aquatics, track and field, gymnastics, power lifting and soccer. Competitions run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Ceremonies are at 6:30 p.m. today at Nottingham Field on the UNC campus.

A community concert by Opie Gone Bad follows.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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