In addition to competing in the Special Olympics Summer Games this year, Wheaton resident Ryne Stolarz will represent 46 other Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA) and 3,800 athletes from Illinois when he carries the symbolic torch in the opening ceremonies.
Stolarz, 23, who has qualified for the Special Olympics for 14 consecutive years in either swimming or soccer, said in a statement, "I feel amazed and honored to carry the torch. It is a wonderful opportunity." Stolarz will be one of four athletes chosen to carry the torch.
The Special Olympics Summer Games is the largest state competition for Illinois and it encompasses competition in aquatics, track and field, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, and bocce. Special Olympics divides the state into 18 competition areas. Athletes and teams qualify for State competitions by winning a gold medal in their area competition, according to a press release from WDSRA.
His mom, Nancy, said in a statement that the Special Olympics are a "very important and valuable" part of her son's daily life.
Jackie Salemi, athletic supervisor at WDSRA said Special Olympics are not all "hugs and high fives."
While there is plenty of support and encouragement, she said, "Those athletes set out with a goal to win gold and compete at the state competitions. ... They know the difference between receiving a gold medal or a participation ribbon when they stand up on the podium.
“Some of our athletes are there specifically because they are very competitive by nature. Just like any sporting body, we encourage athletes to be competitive by working hard and by increasing their overall skills. But they are competitive."
The state Summer Games begin June 15 in Bloomington-Normal and end Sunday, June 17.
For more information on the WDSRA Special Olympics program, visit the WDSRA website.
Information courtesy of a WDSRA press release.