MISSOULA - It's a time for reunions, athletic accomplishments and big smiles, as Special Olympics resumes competition for the first time in two years in Western Montana.
It's been forever since Special Olympic athletes were able to see their friends, and compete in the Five Valleys Summer Games. And they couldn't have been more excited, showing up in new uniforms, faster shoes and the amazing love and spirit that always brings a tear to eye.
Teams were up at six in the morning they were so pumped.
"It's just amazing to have our kids back after three years," Darby Tigers Coach Sharon Westfall told MTN News. "To see the excitement in the faces of all these kids here. Kids I haven't seen for three years. It's a great reunion."
Complete with all the trimmings that make for an exciting event, from the torch, to the flag presentation by the American Legion and a special choir of athletes performing the national anthem.
There was also recognition for volunteers like Becky Butler, honored as the Youth Volunteer of the Year, who helped as a Unified Peer — and dedicated athletes, some of whom have been coming to these games for decades, like Mary Hovland, who's participated in the games for more than 40-years!
What's great about the games is the family, with a place for everyone.
"We've been competing from practice all through COVID, but now it's time to look at our competitor beside us and do it in real time," Special Olympics Montana V.P. of Outreach Mandy Patriarche said with a big smile of her own.
"There are so many people, 'I haven't seen you in two years!' We're coming together. We're hugging so we're really excited to see each other."
And like the Special Olympics pledge says in part, "but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt".
Brave and excited, like Frank Zepeda of the Bitterroot All Stars, "today, we come here. Like how I say, today the boys are back in town!"
And the girl's too!