Wisconsin Special Olympic athletes return to the track for first time since start of COVID-19

EDGERTON, Wis.– Wisconsin’s Special Olympics athletes are retuning to in-person events for the first time since the start of COVID-19.

Nearly 100 athletes took to the Edgerton High School track Sunday morning for running, walking and throwing competitions.

“I’ve been in Special Olympics for 20 years, and I love it so much,” Dean Garfoot, an athlete, said. “It’s great to be back because you get to be around your friends again and enjoy all of the competition.”

Athletic Director Nicole Christensen said Sunday’s competition was a modified track meet where teams rotated through stations and completed events in smaller groups and socially distanced.

“Special Olympics is really happy to be back on the playing field and be able to provide an opportunity for our athletes to come out and compete,” Christensen said. “We’ve really focused on awareness around COVID-19 risks, as well as, vaccine education.”

The events weren’t just about showing off physical strength, but also building “Strong Minds.”

“(Strong Minds) is all about teaching athletes different coping mechanisms to high stress situations,” Christensen said. “There’s really natural opportunity to practice those on the competition field.”

On the competition field is exactly where athletes like Garfoot want to be.

“I like being around people. I enjoy meeting new friends, and I just have a good time,” Garfoot said.

Athletes who qualified in Sunday’s events will go on to compete in a modified state track meet in Appleton in June.

There will be more Special Olympics competitions as the organization heads into its summer and outdoor sports seasons.