Special Olympics athletes get medal-worthy send-off
Athletes can sometimes get bogged down in the negative self-talk before they compete.
That’s not a problem for Josh Delie, of Soldotna. On Friday, he knew exactly what he was looking forward to most when he heads to Orlando for the 2022 U.S.A. Special Olympics.
"Just the souvenirs and getting gold again and telling us we’re champions" he said.
His bocce partner and local Special Olympics volunteer, Sam Eason, smiled.
“I love optimism, confidence," he said.
Eason and Delie are representing the central Kenai Peninsula and Alaska in the Special Olympics next week.
Eason has been working with Special Olympics for 20 years. He said the Orlando event is a great chance to meet athletes from across the U.S.
“I’ve met so many good people," he said. "We get to meet people around the whole country now, involved in the Special Olympics. “
Darryl Magen, of Soldotna, is also competing in the Special Olympics next week. He’s a swimmer.
And on Friday, as the athletes boarded the first of many flights to Florida from the Kenai Municipal Airport, family and friends from Hope Community Resources gave them a very spirited sendoff, complete with colorful “good luck” banners and a procession of firetrucks.
Darryl Magen’s mom, Charlissa, is joining Darryl in Orlando.
“He had to swim in Special Olympics and qualify and make the team," she said. "He’s been swimming with Special Olympics for two years now. And he qualified, and they called him last year and told him he made the team if he would accept the honor. And he accepted it. So he’s been training all year for this.”
She said he’s competing over three days – in the 50-meter and 200-meter freestyle.
Dennis Haas is Delie’s guardian. He said Delie and Eason have been keeping up a regimented practice routine in preparation for the games.
“They’ve been training for a couple years," he said. "Weekly, they’re in contact with the Special Olympics out of Anchorage. They had to practice other sports just to keep in shape. So I’m pretty proud of them. They’ve been working pretty hard at it.”
He said that emphasis on working hard and on routine are really valuable lessons that come out of the Special Olympics for athletes.
“There’s only two people going from the Kenai," he said. "But they know a lot of the athletes from across the state, participating in statewide events. So they’re meeting friends from Kodiak, Ketchikan.”
Sue Perles is CEO of Special Olympics Alaska. She said they’re sending a group of 71, including about 30 athletes and a dozen coaches.
“This is the largest delegation ever to go to the U.S.A. games," she said. "Our Alaskans should have a great time. They’re very prepared, highly qualified and we hope to come back with lots of personal bests and terrific results.”
Alaska’s Special Olympics athletes are spread out across the state. Perles said it’s the local volunteers, like Eason, who make everything happen in those communities.
That’s despite pandemic-induced hiccups these last few years.
She said Special Olympics athletes usually qualify for the U.S.A. games in regional and then statewide competitions.
But this time around, the statewide games were sidelined due to COVID-19.
“So we took their community competitions and qualified athletes through to go to the U.S.A. games,” she said.
Delie, who wore his qualifying gold medal around his neck at the airport, remembered that match. He says it didn’t come easy.
“Fighting really hard," he said. "Nobody was giving it easy, and nobody was wanting to give it easy to us. We had to fight really tooth and nail, so we had to really earn it.”
He’s expecting more tough gameplay next week. But the Olympics won’t be all work and no play.
Magen said when he’s not swimming, he has other plans.
“Disney World," he cheered. "New rides.”
Eason said there will be a lot of play when they're not working — and playing when they are, too.
“Yeah," Delie agreed. "And bocce-ing a lot.”
The U.S.A. Special Olympics starts June 5 in Orlando, Fla.
Special Olympics Alaska will be sharing recaps and photos online.
And if the airport sendoff is any indication, there will be a lot of folks cheering Delie and Magen from home. On Friday afternoon, about two dozen fans lined up in the hot summer sun to create an aisle from the terminal to the small plane while Delie and Magen slapped high-fives and accepted congratulations.
And then they jetted off to Anchorage, where they were be greeted by another procession before beginning the long journey down to Florida and — hopefully — to gold.
Editor’s note: Charlissa Magen is a volunteer DJ for KDLL.