116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Athletes jumping for joy, hugging and high-fiving each other. Sportsmanship you will not find anywhere else.
All of this took place recently at the Westdale Bowling Center.
Cedar Rapids Washington participated in a Special Olympics bowling event and the Warriors' excitement filled the bowling center.
'My favorite part is knocking the bowling pins down,” said Imoni Cardine, a member of the Washington team. 'I've practiced a lot of times.
Cardine has participated in these events for the past three years. Cherri Lock has assisted her for the past seven years.
'We're almost family at this point,” Lock said. 'We're just very close, we get to know each other really well.”
Trust is a centerpiece in a healthy relationship, and building that bond with people with special needs is important for all.
'They learn better because they feel safe,” Lock said. 'If they're afraid or unsure it makes them not be able to do things as well as they could otherwise.”
In moments like these, the love and care of assistants really shines. Assistants want nothing but the best for their athletes. That's the foundation and true hidden beauty of the Special Olympics.
'It's really rewarding,” Lock said. 'These are great kids, they love to be treated normally and do things the way everyone else does.”
The staff focuses on letting athletes do things they can thrive at rather than focus on things they can't do.
'It makes them very happy,” Lock said.
Cindy Henle has been in the program since she first started teaching at Washington in 1999 and she can account for the happiness that students radiate.
'These kids can show a person what joy is,” Henle said. 'They might seem different, but (they) ultimately want the same thing most everyone else does - friendship, acceptance and inclusion.”
When gazing around the bowling alley, every athlete had a smile on their face. They didn't care what was holding them back, or the daily challenges they face. They were doing something they loved, around people who loved them.
'I think it's remarkable” Lock said. 'I don't know if the general public understands that just because you have an intellectual delay doesn't mean that you are delayed in everything. It's fun to watch.”
The event ended with a ribbon ceremony. Lane by lane officials handed out placement awards. Each athlete was head over heels with their placement. As a name was read off, the lanes filled with cheers and hugs from other participants and their families. It didn't matter where they place, just that they went out and gave it their all.
'I try to make sure they understand that their best effort is always good enough,” Henle said. 'No matter what color the ribbon.”
Henle has seen lots of positive changes in the Special Olympics programs, like more opportunities and sports. But she's also seen a downside - low volunteer numbers.
'When you share things that you love with other people,” Lock said. ' I think it's rewarding for you as well.”