Porter County Sending 24 Special Olympics Athletes to National Games

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Published on July 14, 2010 with No Comments

by Krystal Vivian

In his 30 years, Drew Metzger has never allowed his disabilities keep him from accomplishing his goals and achieving his dreams.  Though he is blind and suffers from slight cerebral palsy, he is known for his motivation to succeed and to help other people.

Metzger has a Masters Degree from Valparaiso University in Sports Management.  While attending school there, he helped tutor Chinese and Saudi Arabian students.  He was recently accepted into Northern Illinois University, where he will study how to teach the blind.  After completing that, he wants to pursue a PhD in Disabilities Studies from University of Illinois in Chicago.

On top of his academic accomplishments, Metzger also plays bocce in the Porter County Special Olympics, and will be participating in the National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska from July 18 to July 23.  He has participated in the games for 19 years. He is also a certified coach for bocce, bowling and swimming.  Since he began participating in the Special Olympics, he has made many friends who also prove that having disabilities doesn’t have to be a handicap.

“Being involved in Special Olympics has created a lifestyle that [the athletes] wouldn’t have otherwise.  It’s more than just sports.  It’s a family,” Lorrie Woycik, county coordinator, said. 

Jennifer Seeburger, 35, began participating in the Special Olympics eight years ago, after meeting someone who was involved with the Special Olympics.  She takes part in the track and field events and is also participating in the National Games.  Her favorite part of Special Olympics is being cheered on, as well as cheering on other participants. 

“If my teammate isn’t doing well, I can cheer them on.  And even if [my teammates] beat me, it’s okay.  We all did our best.  That’s the spirit of Special Olympics,” Seeburger said. 

She also likes how everyone is awarded ribbons, even if they don’t win a medal, because they still did their best and that matters as much as winning does.

“[The athletes] have such a good attitude and understand,” Woycik said.  “It’d be a better world if everyone was like them.  The higher-level athletes don’t shy away from lower-level athletes.  They have a much more compassionate attitude.”

Seeburger attributes that to knowing what it feels like to be made fun of by other people at school because of her disabilities.  As a self-advocate, she helps teach others to be more understanding of other people.

When she was six years old, Seeburger suffered from a traumatic brain injury that caused her left side to be partially paralyzed.  That doesn’t stop her from being a caring person, a devoted athlete, and living her life to the fullest. 

“I walk a mile whenever I can,” she said.  “And I like to spend a lot of time with my roommates.   They also have disabilities.  I just help them out with things when they need it.”

All Special Olympics athletes are required to have practiced for at least eight weeks before the meets, but the Porter County Special Olympics athletes go above and beyond that. 

Katy Kelly plays basketball in the Special Olympics.  They have been training since August.  Kelly, who is 24, began in the Special Olympics as a swimmer 16 years ago, and is hoping to get her coaching license for swimming.

“The athletes are good at coaching because they know what it’s like to have been there,” Woycik said.

Kelly participates in the Special Olympics because it helps keep her out of trouble.  She enjoys working two jobs and spends her free time with her friends.  Kelly also enjoys being able to travel with other athletes.  She went skiing in Alaska and has traveled to places like Ames, Iowa for meets.

Kelly, Metzger, and Seeburger all enjoy meeting people from different parts of the state, country, and sometimes even the world, as well.

“I have friends from other states that I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t in Special Olympics,” Metzger said.

In Porter County alone, there are over 600 athletes who participate in the Special Olympics.  Out of the 100 athletes whom the state of Indiana is sending to the National Games, 24 are from Porter County’s Special Olympics program, including the only two basketball teams from Indiana. 

All athletes going to the National Games won gold medals in their events at the state competition.  They were then recommended to go to the National Games, and their names were chosen out of a hat.

“Being a national athlete is one of the highest honors that an athlete can get,” Woycik said.  “So the athletes that we recommend are certainly the ones that have earned the opportunity.”

And they certainly have earned the opportunity.  The Porter County Special Olympics runs a tight ship, with strict rules for participating.  Athletes are not allowed to degrade others.  They are also not allowed to cuss, drink or smoke.  Athletes must regularly attend practices to participate in their sports.  Though there have been a few cases where athletes could not participate at a meet because of failing to meet one of these requirements, most athletes find it easy to be respectful, kind and dedicated, as they are required. 

This year, the only struggle that the Porter County Special Olympics has had is raising money to send its athletes to the National Games without taking away from their other athletes.  This year, the athletes needed to raise an additional $25,000 to participate in the National Games.  To make this possible, they have had multiple fundraisers.   They will also have a booth at Oz Fest in Valparaiso and at the Perch Fest in Portage, and are accepting donations.

All positions with the Porter County Special Olympics are on a volunteer basis only, and there are over 30 parents and volunteers working as coaches and county officers.  Woycik loves being a county coordinator for the reason that she simply loves the athletes that she works with every day.

“Money is the least of the payment.  The joy and the love that I have received from these athletes, no amount of money could ever touch,” she said.

In addition to Metzger and Seeburger, 22 other athletes will be going to the National Games.  Cody Waters will join Seeburger in the track and field events, and Tammy Kmiec will join Metzger in the bocce event.  The women’s basketball team, the Porter County Shock, is made up of Lauren Bettenhausen, Lee Ann Bettenhausen, Peggy Gunter, Debbie Hiland, Ashley Kazen, Emma Kopec, Carly Miller, Alison Saager and Michelle Waisanen.  They will be traveling with their coaches Angie MacKenzie and Larra Saager.  The men’s basketball team, the Porter County Hoosiers is made up of Steven Crosby, Rob Gray, Tony Gunter, Justin Kleine, Kyle Ladd, Maurice McComb, David Moscoe, Dustin Oehlman, Jordan Piper and Andrew Walstra.   Their coaches, Chris Ellingsen and Jim MacKenzie, will also be traveling with them.

For more information about the Special Olympics or to learn how to donate or volunteer, visit www.porcoso.org, call Lorrie Woycik at 465-1323 or email blwoycik@comcast.net.

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