By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Residents of the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility celebrated Disability Awareness Month by hearing about the Special Olympics Kansas recently.
Luke Schulte serves as director of special events and fundraisers for Special Olympics Kansas, corporate sponsorships, Kansas Law Enforcement Torch Run and fundraising volunteers.
Schulte said 22 sports and activities are offered year-round through 76 local programs. Besides the popular sports of basketball and track and field, softball, volleyball, bowling, baseball, soccer, golf, gymnastics and powerlifting are offered.
“We work with local groups to identify athletes who can compete,” Schulte said. “Athletes can compete on seven different levels of skill.”
Athletes with physical or mental disabilities have opportunities to compete at regional, state and national levels. Brady Tanner, 31, of Lawrence earned five gold medals in the Special Olympic World Games in Athens, Greece.
Healthy Athletes has been offered since 2003. The program provides health screenings free of charge to SOKS athletes at competition venues. Offered in a welcoming, family friendly and fun environment, these screenings educate athletes on healthy life style choices and identify problems that may need additional professional follow-up. Free medical screenings are offered in a number of disciplines.
“Healthy Athletes is popular because free health screenings, dental care and eye care are provided,” Schulte said. “Athletes are provided eyeglasses or contacts if they are needed.”
Schulte said Young Athletes is an innovative sports play program for children with intellectual disabilities, ages 3-7, designed to introduce them to the world of sports, prior to Special Olympics eligibility at age 8. The program focuses on the development of fundamental physical skills and the application of those skills through general fitness and recreational activities.
The activities foster cognitive and social development, muscular strength, hand-eye coordination and balance. The Special Olympics Kansas program offers two levels of participation.
Level one “Motor Skills” clinics focus on the development of motor skills and hand-eye coordination for participants, ages 3-7. Level two “Little Feet” clinics teach children, ages 5-7, how to apply those physical skills through participation in soccer, track and field, and group exercises and activities.
Schulte said the Kansas Law Enforcement Torch Run, started in Wichita, is the chief fundraiser for Kansas Special Olympics.
“It’s our best vehicle to raise awareness for Kansas Special Olympics,” he said. “We receive no federal or state funding. We fund our programs with donations, grants and through foundations.”
Special Olympics Kansas is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports competitions, health and nutrition programs and leadership development.
Offering year-round initiatives to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics Kansas is a platform for acceptance and inclusion as well as one of the largest advocates for healthy lifestyles in the state – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or cultural differences.
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.