LAUREL — Park City High School senior Lillian Briggs, 18, branched out this year and found a new sport, becoming part of the school's track team as part of the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program.
MTN News caught up with Briggs Tuesday while she was supporting her teammates at a track meet at Laurel High School.
“It’s my first and only year and I’m glad because it gives me a chance to get a break from doing other things like schoolwork and find a balance between schoolwork and other things and not being so stressed out," Briggs said.
She will be the first-ever student to compete in Park City High School's Unified Sports® program at a track meet against Joliet High School Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Laurel High School. The program brings together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities across a variety of sports. The athletes train and compete on the same teams.
Briggs will compete in the 100 meter dash and the 100 meter hurdles. She's been practicing with the Park City High School track team every school night for the past three weeks. The new sport took some getting used to, Briggs said.
“I’m not used to this kind of exercise. This is my first time. I mean, I go out for walks every once in a while just around my town, but I’m not used to running. This is my first time doing it," Briggs said.
Robert Russell is one of the team's four coaches and has helped teach Briggs at practice. He has also taught English in Park City for two years. Russell said Briggs's classmates do just as much to teach as the coaches.
“Everyone kind of helps in their own way to get her prepared for her events. It’s been great to see her classmates work with her. You see them high-fiving during warm-ups and cheering her on. It’s just awesome to see that support and how they work together," Russell said.
Briggs said her track teammates give her a sense of camaraderie.
“It feels great to be part of a team and to have people that are there to support me, be there for me, have my back and cheer me on," Briggs said.
The foray into track and field isn't the first time Briggs has tried something new. In the past, she competed for three years in Special Olympics equestrian events in Billings. Briggs said she competed in horsemanship, showmanship, trail, barrel racing, pole bending and drill team over the years.
“It was a thrill. It was something new that I probably won’t have the chance to do again. It was a fun experience to be part of a team and be with kids like me who have disabilities," Briggs said.
Briggs said she has autism on the "higher function" side of the spectrum, and she has Asperger's syndrome. She said she hopes to inspire other people with disabilities to break out of their comfort zone and try new things.
“I hope to see more of my fellow autistics and people who have intellectual disabilities to compete and do well," Briggs said.
Russell said the Unified Sports® program could benefit other athletes across the state after seeing the success of the program at Park City.
"I think every school district could benefit from this, from having their athletes who have disabilities or unique challenges to have them working with their classmates on a team. It’s a great program for them," Russell said.
After graduation this spring, Briggs said she plans to attend Montana State University in Bozeman to study anthropology or history.