The 28th annual Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games were in full swing in Dubuque Tuesday.
A record number of more than 400 Special Olympics athletes from all over the state, plus several hundred coaches, chaperones and volunteers, visited the key city for this special event.
Special Olympics Iowa serves people with intellectual disabilities who are of all ages, and approximately 11,000 Iowa athletes participated in 2011.
At the Mystique Community Ice Center in Dubuque Tuesday, athletes received medals for figure skating and ice skating.
For nine-year-old David Kerr, competing in the games for his first time, the support and the cheers of the crowd is the real award.
As for David's dad Robert Kerr, a Des Moines neurosurgeon, the award is the smile on his son's face and the way Special Olympics positively impacts these individuals with intellectual disabilities.
"Seeing them excel in this way, the smiles on their faces-- it reminds you as a parent as well about what a gift life is and what a gift our kids are," Kerr said.
Kerr has seen his son face challenges in life.
"He was two and a half years old and diagnosed with a very complicated seizure disorder," Kerr said. "There was a time we didn't think he'd walk and talk and here he is, excelling and doing extremely well."
David, who has only been skating for five weeks, lights up on the ice. His coach Pat Overton said David has been improving leaps and bounds.
"We started him out in the hundred meter. He was at a minute and seven seconds," Overton said. "Today he finished at 31 seconds in the hundred meter."
Overton owes this in part to the supportive environment Special Olympics fosters.
"The amount of inspiration that they give to each other-- They're all the same out here. Nobody is better than any other and they all cheer each other on," Overton, who has two sons competing in the games, said at the ice center Tuesday.
David won two awards Tuesday.
"I'm a rock star!" he exclaimed jubilantly, showing his two medals.
Another rock star competed in snow-shoeing Tuesday at Camp Albrecht Acres, outside Sherrill in Dubuque County. This athlete, however, is a little older.
"71!" in fact, athlete Dick Vetter proudly proclaimed.
Vetter wore a medal as he spoke.
"I did the 400 meter shoe race and got third place!" he said, adding he likes "all the running I do and all the people. They're really nice people."
With a personality that matches his wide and playful smile, Dick Vetter was Iowa's Special Olympics Athlete of the Year several years ago.
"Dick is very forthright and very kind and he'll talk to anybody. I mean anybody," Vetter's coach Tim Atkins said. "He's the most gregarious athlete that we have."
Through its events, Special Olympics Iowa is bringing joy and confidence to athletes young and old and everywhere in between. Athletes range from eight years old to folks in their 80s.
Athletes enjoyed a banquet at the Grand River Center in the Port of Dubuque, followed by a pool party at the nearby Grand Harbor Resort.
The Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games, which include skiing at Sundown Mountain outside Dubuque, wrap up Wednesday by noon.
The next big event for Special Olympics Iowa is the Mid-Winter Tournament in Iowa City in mid-March. The public is always welcome to come out and cheer for the athletes.
For more information on Special Olympics Iowa and upcoming events, click HERE.
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