Local Athletes Represent Minnesota in the Special Olympics in New Jersey

Created: 06/13/2014 7:13 PM
By: Betsy Singer

(ABC 6 News) -- Thousands of athletes, their families and coaches are headed to New Jersey tonight for a chance at a national title. They're competing in the national games for Special Olympics. This weekend is the fulfillment of a dream many could only hope to achieve.

Five athletes from Rochester, another from Austin and only a handful of others from the state of Minnesota are going to the competition.

Christopher is competing in Bocce ball. Travis, Matt and Will for basketball. And Nathan in swimming.

Becky Cleveland has been a coach for nearly 20 years and she was instrumental in Nathan's swimming career. According to Becky, Nathan would not even get in the water when he first started a few years ago,  "Nathan came to swimming lessons six years ago.  Didn't know how to swim, was very afraid of the water and it took a lot of coaxing just to get him in the water."

But it did not end there, "He started special Olympics that year in a life jacket and competed and did great.  I finally convinced him to take it off and he progressed slowly from there. Now he's backstroking."

One thing important thing Becky have witnessed over the years of coaching, and while a coveted medal and title come with winning, these athletes are driven by something more important, "The athletes who come in last place gets the bigger cheer than the one who comes in first.  Every time. I saw an athlete fall, she was in first place,she fell  every body passed her.  They all came back, linked arms and walked her across the finish line.  That's what Special Olympics is all about."

There are sixteen sports in all being competed in the national games at the Special Olympics. Close to four thousand athletes are expected to participate along with one thousand coaches.  And none of it would happen without the volunteers of which there are expected to be about ten thousand.

Local athletes represent Minnesota at the Special Olympics in New Jersey this weekend.