News Article Details

Special Olympics gearing up for winter -- and summer

Ottumwa Courier - 1/6/2019

Jan. 06--OTTUMWA -- If you are a southeast Iowan involved in the Special Olympics, you're either packing to head to the Winter Games in Dubuque next week-- or preparing to start training for the Summer Games.

"If they want to compete in swimming or track and field, they need to come to practice," said Deb Pumphrey of Ottumwa.

Pumphrey, a board member at Tenco, is known as a coach for some Special Olympics events: Her team, of course, is the Ottumwa Bulldogs. She recently sent out 90 letters to individuals who qualify for the games. According to the state organization, they must have an intellectual disability. According to Coach Pumphrey, they need to have a good work ethic.

"We have practice every week," she said.

The Summer Games for the state take place in May in Ames, though the Ottumwa Bulldogs team will hit a little closer to home first; regional competitions are in Mt. Pleasant and Indianola. Ottumwa has also fielded a successful but separate Special Olympics bowling team.

Registering for summer competition needs to happen fast; Practice for track and field and swimming begins January 13 -- however, assured the coach, practice is indoors.

Mostly outdoors, though, in about one week, area athletes who've already registered will be heading to the Winter Games of the Special Olympics of Iowa. They start Monday, January 14, with most of the action taking place Tuesday. Though the games are in Dubuque (at wintery places like Sundown Mountain, Camp Albrecht Acres and the Mystique Community Ice Center), much less practice is demanded, so it's a little harder for neighbors to identify local participants, said the organizations regional director for southeast Iowa, Erin Birkenholtz. It's a practical matter, really, she explained, since, unlike running, there aren't a whole lot of places in Iowa to practice downhill skiing, competitive ice skating and other winter sports.

"So some of our athletes don't get to practice at all," said Birkenholtz. "We do offer a clinic, on Monday, to gage where they're ability is. It works out; some coach might think that a particular athlete might be a good skier, for instance."

That results in an experience that requires a certain amount of courage, she said.

"That Monday might be the first time they have ever put on skis. They compete on Tuesday. So yes, some of our athletes have no fear whatsoever. They go down the hill, or put on snowshoes and run. Snow shoeing gets very competitive."

The majority of Special Olympics winter participants are adults, she said. During the day are time trials, practice clinics or actual events. At night, athletes and families who go up to Dubuque will socialize as they dine in the banquet halls with their peers.

"This one has a lot of fanfare," said Birkenholtz. "Opening ceremonies includes a parade with all the athletes, there's just more pomp and circumstance."

"The Special Olympics is about spending time with friends and family, and the joy you see on their face when they win is priceless," said Pumphrey.

And while participating is valuable, these athletes want to win. Both Pumphrey and Birkenholtz said this is a very competitive group of people.

"Everybody has a great time," said Pumphrey.

To contact Deb Pumphrey locally about swimming, track and field events, call 641-777-3425. To reach the state organization, visit Registration requires certain steps, including a physical. Contact Courier staff writer Mark Newman at email


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