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Special Olympics athletes put their skills to the test

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POTSDAM - It was a special day Saturday for about 180 special individuals.

Members of 23 training clubs from Canton, Massena and Ogdensburg, to Saranac Lake, Malone and Tupper Lake, with names like Adirondack Rednecks, Amherst All Stars and LEAP Frogs, converged on Maxcy Hall on the SUNY Potsdam campus for the 2012 Special Olympics - New York North Country Region Summer Games.

Special Olympics New York - North County Region serves 350 athletes from both St. Lawrence and Franklin counties through 30-plus training programs.

For some athletes, it was a chance to test their mettle in races of 25, 50, 100 or 200 meters, walks of 25, 100 or 200 meters or a 25-meter wheelchair race.

Others had the opportunity to participate in a soccer kick, softball ball throw or bean bag toss.

They could also test their basketball or long jumping skills during the day-long competition.

“I’m not interest in soccer,” said Craig Patraw, Hermon, one of the day’s participants.

Instead, he said, he would be focusing on a walk, run, softball throw and kickball.

An eight-year veteran of the Special Olympics, Mr. Patraw has brought home three to four ribbons every year. His regimen includes exercising for 15 minutes every day, he said.

He said his goal beyond the Special Olympics is to become part of the counselor staff at his site.

Peter Henry, Ogdensburg, was participating in his second Special Olympics. He planned to take part in the 100-meter dash, long jump and 100-meter walk.

“Last year I got four ribbons. I had first place for the softball throw,” he said.

Like Mr. Patraw, Mr. Henry said he keeps himself in shape on a regular basis while working for 11 years at ARC.

“I walk to work every day,” he said.

While winning was nice, Mr. Henry said he enjoys the Special Olympics for another reason.

“I meet new friends,” he said.

With the exception of one year when he had brain surgery, David Robillard has been part of the Special Olympics since 1975.

“I was just a little runt back then,” he said.

His events this year were the long jump, softball throw and 100-meter walk.

“I do softball and the long jump best. I can jump pretty good on the long jumps. I just practice,” he said.

Brittany Ashlaw, one of the coaches, was helping individuals from her club with their events throughout the day.

“Everyone seems to really enjoy it. They all get ribbons. They always have to show me their ribbons,” she said.

Ms. Ashlaw said the athletes have some help in determining what events they’ll participate in during the day.

“My boss will determine what they’re capable of doing,” she said, whether it’s running or sticking to walks.

As a coach, she said, “we keep them in the lines and cheer them on.”

Before they took to the playing fields, the athletes assembled in their groups, posed for pictures and then, carying their banners or signs with their club names, took part in the “Parade of Athletes” as they were applauded by spectators and coaches.

“Is everybody ready to have a good day?” master of ceremonies and volunteer Steve Helmase asked, drawing approval from the athletes.

The games weren’t officially open, however, until William Hardy and Shawn Villnave took turns carrying the Special Olympic torch around the indoor track and participant Barbara Guilbault led in the group in the Special Olympics oath - “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let be brave in the attempt.”

And then it was time for games to begin.

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