Special Olympics Lakeland put a bow on their spring bowling season on Thursday night at Marina Bowling in Cold Lake, handing out awards to each of their local athletes.
The group provides recreational and competitive sporting opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities and has ramped up since restrictions have eased.
Coach and board member Jess Heisler says the growth of about 40 athletes in their club shows the need for those with disabilities to get out, socialize, and be active.
“We really brought it right back from pre-COVID to post-COVID, and we’ve really grown exponentially, and we’re really trying to move forward with some more sports in the future,” said Heisler.
“COVID was a horrible time, especially for these guys, and they had a lot of resources kind of stripped from them. You can see just how thankful they are to kind of be out of it and be able to be back in the community once again.”
Each participant received a medal and a certificate for their exploits during the bowling season. Some were competing for their first year, while others have been involved for decades.
Athlete Colin Booker says he’s been participating “forever.” He hit a four-bagger during the season, which is four consecutive strikes.
“Different bowling alleys have the different pins, but this one’s so sensitive. You have to be really careful with the lane. That’s all,” said Booker, explaining his strategy for success.
“I just like to have fun and enjoy everyone here and everyone out there; please go to Marina Bowling. It’s an amazing place to go.”
With interest growing, Special Olympics Lakeland is looking at expanding the sports they offer and their volunteer base to get a broader scope of athletic opportunities. This includes partnering with Challenger Baseball and beginning a bocce ball season on June 16.
“We’re also looking into golf and some curling and stuff for the winter. So we’re really pushing forward the ability for everyone here to kind of be an equal part of the community. It’s really become a huge community. I mean, everyone here just enjoys each other so much,” said Heisler.
Special Olympics Lakeland had volunteered at bingos as a source of fundraising and is looking for events to volunteer at in the coming months. If corporates or individuals are looking to donate, the money will go a long way.
“Any fundraising opportunities, your money would go towards actual athlete programming. A lot of these athletes are stuck on AISH, and they really don’t have a lot of money. And we are thankful that a lot of companies do give us a bit of a break. When it comes to like Marina Bowling, they have been great for making sure that everyone could come out and afford to play, so any funds that we would get or any fundraising opportunities would go towards the programming for these guys,” said Heisler.