SHERIDAN—The torch is ablaze, and more than 3,500 athletes are in Newark, New Jersey, to compete in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games.
Three of those 3,500 are Sheridan residents.
Tahia Grosch, Khyra Maes and Ronald Roberts are joining the 19 other athletes, 12 coaches, eight Unified Sports partners, three Special Olympics Wyoming staff members, and four from the Youth Activation Committee as they represent the state of Wyoming in the games.
Grosch, 39, is representing Team Wyoming and competing in bowling. Grosch, who works at Tongue River Elementary School, was able to attend the preliminary competition leading up to the World Games in Greece in 2011.
When asked what her favorite part of the Special Olympics is, she said, “Everything.”
Maes is in Newark this week competing in athletics, participating in the 200-meter run and the running long jump.
“Special Olympics and National Games are very important to me because it will be a good challenge to work hard,” Maes said. “It is also a once in a lifetime experience.”
Roberts, 36, has lived in his Sheridan his whole life and says he knows it “like the back of his hand.” He is competing in the 50-meter walk and the 100-meter walk.
Joining the 12-person coaching team is another Sheridan resident, Tanna Cotton. Cotton, who is the coordinator for the Sheridan schools program, is in New Jersey coaching track and field. She has been training Wyoming athletes for the Special Olympics Summer Games, Fall Tournament and Winter Games for more than a dozen years. All four of these Sheridan residents were involved in a lengthy selection process before being selected to make the trip to Newark.
Allison Harker, vice president of program for Special Olympics Wyoming, says the process for the games began more than a year ago.
“We submit a quota for the sports that have the highest participation,” Harker said. “The National Games Organizing Committee then decides on how many athletes we can take.”
Any athlete that has won a gold medal in a state competition becomes eligible for the USA Games, but a little luck is involved in being selected, as well.
“We take all the winners from state competitions and put their names into a hat,” Harker said. “We draw at random who gets to attend. We draw one athlete and two alternates for each sport.”
Each coach must go through an application process before being selected, too.
“Every coach must submit an application for the specific sport he or she wants to coach,” Harker said. “Then we interview them and contact their references, just to make sure they are a good fit.”
The games are just one part of a fun-filled weekend for the athletes. Along with the competition, athletes get to attend a Trenton Thunder baseball game, a dinner cruise in Manhattan Harbor, and visit Special Olympics Town.
They also got the chance to attend the Opening Ceremonies on Sunday.
“It’s funny because the Opening Ceremonies involve around 18,000 people,” Harker said. “That’s more than the population of Sheridan.”
When it all boils down to it, though, the athletes come to the games to compete.
“The other stuff is good and great, but the competition is my favorite part,” Harker said. “Just seeing these athletes trying their hardest and seeing them show off their medals, that’s the best part.”
“It’s great representation to have for Special Olympics Wyoming,” Harker said. “The athletes come back with a whole new perspective. They can share their excitement with their city, which is great for the state and the Special Olympics.”
Grosch, Maes, Roberts and Cotton, along with the 45 other representatives from Wyoming, will compete throughout the week until Closing Ceremonies on Saturday.