Steamboat Springs Bruce Rule didn’t have words for what it felt like to win the gold medal.
He just kissed the medal that hung around his neck and smiled.
Every one of the 38 Special Olympics athletes who rolled bowling balls down the lanes of Snow Bowl on Saturday afternoon got one of those medals. Whether they took gold, silver or bronze, all were eager to show them off.
For some, such as athlete Jay Greenhill, it was the score that was a source of pride. In his second year in the event, Greenhill scored a 191 — his highest score ever — in his third game of the tournament.
He attributed his personal best to his competition.
“It’s all because of Mike Adams over here,” he said. “He’s a good bowler, too, and good competition. I guess I had that eager advantage.”
The Yampa Valley Special Olympics Bowling Tournament for the developmentally disabled clients of Horizons Specialized Services is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.
With the help of the Knights, the athletes had been practicing at the bowling alley for two months and attended a competition in New Castle. For the athletes in wheelchairs, there were racks they could use to point the ball down the lane. All ability levels had the same opportunity to participate in the tournament.
Greenhill said the event was all about meeting people and having a good time with friends.
For athlete Rick Rapalee, who bowled three strikes in his third game, it was all about the sport.
“I like strikes,” he said.
“It feels really good,” he said about watching all 10 pins topple to the ground. “It feels so awesome; I love it.”
Saturday was a celebration of the final day of the two-month bowling program, which has existed for 16 years. Mike Bieron, a Knights of Columbus member, has been involved from Day 1.
“It’s a broad-participation sport,” Bieron said about the reason for the bowling program. “Even for the lowest-functioning folks.”
Bieron said the rewards of the program stem directly from the athletes’ enjoyment.
“It comes down to something about the athletes and how much they get out of participating,” he said.
He added that the tournament, while sponsored by the Knights, was funded by the community, who donated funds during the organization’s annual Tootsie Roll sales drive.
Mike Dwire, a vocational counselor with Horizons, said the clients revel in the opportunity to compete, exercise and socialize.
“It’s always organized chaos,” Dwire said about the three-hour tournament. “But just to see the smiles on all the athletes’ faces, it’s all worth it.”