Oldenburg resident Isaac Kramer felt nervous when he carried a torch that opened the Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games, which were June 7-9 in Terre Haute.
"Isaac raised over $3,300 for Special Olympics Indiana and his local program," explained Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn Counties Delegation coordinator Greg Townsend, Aurora. "Isaac was the only athlete in the state to participate in the 5K Community Run. He ran with law enforcement officers and corporate sponsors."
"We each took turns carrying the torch around the town," recalled the incoming Batesville High School freshman. "It was heavy."
At Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Hulman Center, the female Athlete of the Year lit the flame of hope to signal the start of the games. Then six athletes, including Isaac, carried in more torches to huge applause.
"It was all right. More than all right," he clarified, trying to keep modest. What impressed him at the opening were "cool drummers who did a light show."
That 5K was also the highlight of the weekend for the 14-year-old, who spent last Friday running.
"He had a very busy day," admitted mom Yvonda Kramer.
Even before the torch relay and evening opening ceremonies, the teen was competing, first in the 800 meters at 12:30 p.m., then the 400, which ended at 3:40. With times of 2:33 and 1:13, respectively, Kramer earned two gold medals at the Gibson Track and Field Complex for being the fastest for his age group in the entire state.
How did that distinction make him feel? "Famous!" he replied with a big grin.
"This is a pretty big accomplishment," said his Batesville Middle School teacher Amy Fledderman. "He is such a great kid."
In addition to parents Todd and Yvonda Kramer, cheering him on were grandparents Ron and Jane Kramer, Oldenburg, and the Rev. Charles and Wilma Flory, Greensburg; and his aunt, Andrea Gordon, Evansville, and her family.
At the end of the day the athlete was exhausted.
Kramer joined Special Olympics last year and chose track and field because he likes to run. He continually trains throughout the year. His parents take him to area parks and school tracks to run laps. BMS track coach Malena Smith invited him to train with the school team, then in March Special Olympics training began under track coach Jimmy Laub, Lawrenceburg.
Saturday was less about competing and more about learning and socializing. According to his mom, "Special Olympics has this awesome program called Healthy Athletes," which offers free screenings. Kramer visited two stations, healthy choices, which included a physical check; and physical therapy, where he learned how to do additional stretches at home. She concluded, "It's really a very nice program, especially for some of our athletes who don't have the means to get to a doctor."
At night, "I went to the dance," he reported. His mother explained, "They have a Festival of Champions on Saturday – a dance and fireworks and a chance for all athletes to hang out." The runner recalled, "It was kind of fun watching Tito (a coach) dance!" As they headed to their hotel, the family stopped to buy insomnia cookies and ice cream at an Indiana State University campus shop that stayed open until 3 a.m.
Sunday morning at 9 a.m. Kramer, who also loves to play the Super Smash Brothers video game and basketball and jump on the family's trampoline, competed in his javelin event. He said, "You throw this minispear. I got a gold medal." Even though the family doesn't have a record of the distance, "I could tell I'd done really well." Kramer practiced at home until he broke his javelin.
This Ripley-Ohio-Dearborn Counties Delegation was the largest ever taken from southeast Indiana to the Summer Games with 81 athletes, 10 unified partners and 29 coaches and chaperones. The participants competed in six categories: track and field, powerlifting, unified volleyball, swimming, bowling doubles and unified bowling doubles.
The games had a theme – "Joy of Inclusion" – that made for a weekend of only winners and no losers. "Every athlete got a special medal that was just for the 50th" anniversary of the state organization's founding, according to Yvonda.
On Sunday the family stayed to cheer on ROD teammates participating in a walk. The Kramers helped take down a track team tent, packed up and came home.
Isaac Kramer, who competes in many area 5Ks, was running Wednesday morning, now training for Special Olympics cross country events, which begin in September. This winter he will bowl at the state games in Indianapolis if he qualifies. After competing in Special Olympics snowboarding events at Perfect North Slopes, Lawrenceburg, last winter and finding it scary, he's unsure about continuing that sport.
Special Olympics Indiana President Jeff Mohler reported by email, "For the 50th anniversary Summer Games, we had 2,875 competitors – a record for us."
He pointed out, "Special Olympics Indiana serves more than kids. We serve people with intellectual disabilities from age 2, and there is no retirement age. So we have athletes in their 80s. Once an athlete joins Special Olympics, there is something for them – no matter their disability, no matter their athletic ability, no matter their age, no matter their socioeconomic situation."
This summer it wasn't just a reunion for athletes, but also for the organization's founders.
According to Mohler, "On June 6, 1969, two Indiana State University professors in the College of Education founded Special Olympics Indiana after taking a delegation of athletes to the Chicago games the previous summer. One founder, Dr. Judy Campbell, passed away a few years ago. But Dr. Tom Songster joined us for the 50th anniversary, having traveled from Arlington, Virginia." In addition, the state organization's first executive director, Dennis Schmidt, now retired in Naples, Florida, was there.
The president noted, "I will always remember taking Tom and Dennis around campus, showing them the new sports venues, and seeing them reconnect with old friends, both athletes and volunteers. To see them enjoy the weekend will always be with me."
According to Townsend, "The Summer Games is a great opportunity for our athletes not to only show the world what they can achieve, but to also meet and develop new friendships across the state."
"The most common comment I hear over the weekend that stands out to me is how thankful our parents are for the opportunities Special Olympics provides to their sons and daughters."
Mohler reflected, "Summer Games is a weekend where the rest of the world doesn’t matter. That world is one that labels. That world is one that can be discriminatory against a person with an intellectual disability. That world can be cruel.
"For one weekend, that world doesn’t matter.
"What does matter is a weekend with friends – old and new. A weekend in which they are the stars."
Please see more photos with this story on our website.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.