Local Athletes Attend National Special Olympics USA Games
May 24, 2014 02:59PM
● By Laura Ustanovska
Cindy Redlich, Andrew Gitzlaff and Angela Arsiniega
Special Olympics USA Games are held every four years. This year
happens to be one of those years, and four local athletes will be
traveling to the competition held June 14-21 in New Jersey. Arrowhead
High School students and alumni (there is no age cut-off for Special
Olympians) are given a choice of three sports to focus on –
gymnastics, volleyball and athletics (track and field). The athlete
proceeds to train year round.
The selection process for nationals began in August 2013. For an athlete to be nominated, he or she must be the standing state champion, a competition which is held every year. Along with looking at a nominee's athletic abilities, the committee takes into account an athlete's level of independence and ability to travel, when selecting those who will represent the state.
John Hough, a special education teacher at Arrowhead, will lead two of his own alumni, Cindy Redlich and Andrew Gitzlaff, as head coach of the Wisconsin volleyball team. The remaining 12 members of the team come from Viroqua and the North Shore area of Milwaukee. The team began practicing together in January of 2014, braving several snowstorms to get together.
Kristen Knutsen and Angela Arsiniega, a first-timer to nationals, will be competing in gymnastics. Most of these athletes are exposed to sports for the first time when they enter high school around age 14.
The camaraderie does not end once these athletes leave the arena, though. Cindy and Angela both work four days a week and spend another volunteering at Arrowhead. They help the other students train, not only in athletics, but in other life skills and competitions, such as the annual Job Olympics hosted at Arrowhead each winter. “There are no egos among any of them,” says John. “They lead by example. Cindy is one of the most unassuming young ladies you will ever meet.”
“We've sort of become a whole family, students and parents alike, mentoring each other,” continues John, speaking about the relationships formed during high school that continue through the transition to post-high school life. John is proud of the independence and growth he sees in his students because of their participation in Special Olympics. “They are more confident and sure of themselves,” he says.
Due to the support of the community and school district itself, these local athletes will be winners no matter how they place in this year's games, and, regardless of outcome, they all have the world competition to look forward to next year, an event held every five years.