BOZEMAN — Montana is celebrating its 50th year of holding the Special Olympics. At Montana State University on Wednesday, participant Emily Ruff was training for the upcoming events.
"I’m doing kickball, the softball throw, the 10-yard dash and squats,” said Ruff.
This year, due to COVID-19, the events are virtual.
“We’ll have four different quarters and each quarter has four different events in it," said Mandy Patriarche, the vice president of outreach for the Montana Special Olympics. "Inside those events (are) different levels, so people of all abilities can participate. It’s really on the athletes and our volunteers to get online and submit the results.”
This year, anyone can earn a gold medal. It all depends on the the participation of the athletes.
“If you participate a lot (in all four events), you will get a gold certificate. You do half the events, you’ll get a silver certificate and things like that," Patriarche said.
For Ruff, this is Year 16 for her participating in the games.
“Special Olympics is more than friends, it’s a whole community coming together to support those less fortunate than the others who don’t have a chance or a voice to pursue those happy moments with friends who are shy," said Ruff. "It’s just one big happy family.”
What the Special Olympics have done is help the athletes grow and have a part in society.
"It’s given me confidence to go out into the community, especially here in Bozeman where I work at the local hospital," said Ruff. "It’s given me that extra boost of confidence to be out in the community to make friends."
“From a small track meet in Billings 50 years ago to statewide servicing over 3,000 athletes is just unbelievable,” Patriarche said.
Patriarche had an uncle with Down syndrome, and, for her, this is a dream job.
“It really means a lot to me. We’re a big family,” she said.
Ruff has been inspired by those who dedicate their time to the Special Olympics like Patriarche. She graduates with her associate's degree from Gallatin Community College next year with plans to be a sign language interpreter. She misses her friends who she won’t be able to see this year, so she has one thing to say in sign language.
"Hey friends, how are you?" she said in sign language.