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Special Olympics spring games make big impact on athletes, UW Oshkosh

Posted at 5:06 PM, Apr 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-16 19:56:24-04

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) — Special Olympics Wisconsin wrapped up a fun weekend of competition in basketball and swimming at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on Sunday and participants and organizers both said the games made a big impact on the lives of everyone involved.

"It means so much to me and it has my heart forever," athlete Maddie Foley said.

After years of COVID restrictions, Special Olympics Wisconsin CEO Chad Hershner said he sensed the athletes' excitement as they returned to full competition this weekend.

“It’s been phenomenal," he said. "We’ve had more than 800 athletes, here, and certainly strong participation from coaches, volunteers, fans…it’s just the pure joy.”

For Nicole Christensen, Special Olympics Wisconsin's Senior Director of Sports, the games are important because they allow athletes a chance to show off their skills and build lasting relationships.

“They have a community here within Special Olympics," she said. "They have friends across the state that they get to see every year when they come to this competition. Just seeing the friendships and camaraderie that happen throughout this event is really special.”

UW Oshkosh has been hosting special Olympics events for around 40 years. Event coordinator Laurie Hughes said the games bring "immense positivity" to campus and offer some important lessons for university students.

“I think that is just the best message that these athletes bring to our campus..." said Hughes, "...just that we’re all together, we’re all inclusive, and that it’s just a great time.”

As for Foley, she said the experience was one she'll treasure all her life.

“I love Special Olympics so much," she said. "And I just wanted to say it’s a good opportunity to get your disability kids out there, and it’s really fun. It has my heart forever."