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'I was very shocked': Special Olympics athlete reacts to tournament being canceled over coronavirus

After months of training, many athletes with Special Olympics Iowa won't get to compete in the organization's Mid-Winter Tournament.

GRIMES, Iowa — Patrick Cunningham is one of the top athletes with Special Olympics Iowa. 

His specialty? Basketball. 

An 18-year SOI athlete veteran, he's been training since November for the 2020 Mid-Winter Tournament in Iowa City.

But, due to the spread of COVID-19, the tournament has been canceled. 

"I was very shocked," Cunningham said. 

While he understands why the tournament was canceled, it still came as a big blow to a large group of athletes ready to compete.

"We serve a population where many are at a heightened risk (age, compromised immune systems, and/or medically fragile), and our competitions require people to travel from all parts of the state to convene in venues and engage in sport," Special Olympics Iowa CEO John Kliegl said in a statement. "With this news about confirmed and suspected cases, we no longer believe that we can prudently proceed with the tournament and be sure we are providing a safe and healthy environment, regardless of what precautionary steps and/or preventative measures we might implement."

RELATED: Special Olympics Iowa cancels tournament over coronavirus

The decision was ultimately made out of an abundance of caution for the athletes and their families.

"We deemed that even with any precautions that we would put into place it still wasn't as safe as we wanted to have for our athletes," said Karen Whitman with Special Olympics Iowa. "So the best option was to cancel it."

Special Olympics Iowa says they still plan to hold their summer tournament.

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