INDIANOLA, Iowa — After COVID-19 impacted so much, Special Olympics Iowa started holding in-person games this week for the first time in 15 months.
Athletes sprinted, threw and rolled back into competition Thursday, never missing a beat.
"We miss our athletes and they miss us. We've done everything virtual for the last year and we've gotten to see them but not in person," SOI Senior Director of Sports and Programs Dawn Criss aid. "The excitement of their faces today just proves it all. we are so excited to be with them."
They're setting goals and reaching them.
"The thing I like about them is I am a very special runner who runs real fast," said athlete Michael Hall. "And I did lots of running. And I'm known as the one who once got a silver medal from the Olympics of the past."
And if you catch up to Kianna Washington and ask her why she's competing and what she loves so much about track, you'll find out it's about her friends. And running.
"That's my favorite part," she said. "I love it ... yay fans!"
Her mom watches with pride, as parents do, grateful the long year of COVID has given way to blue skies, fresh air and friends.
"I think it's very important for her to be around other children with special needs and to share the love with everyone," Tanya Duncan, Kianna's mother, said. "They get to be recognized, people cheer them on it makes them feel special and proud."
And while medals are nice, as are the cheers, any athlete will tell you: nothing beats the rush of the sport and getting your moment to shine.
COVID precautions like masks were still in effect, and the area games still do not have team-to-team competition. Each team had a designated time on the field.
March 2020: Special Olympics Iowa tournament canceled due to coronavirus