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In the past year, Sammi Foster has been more outgoing and has more self-esteem. It's because of the Special Olympics, her dad said.
Sammi is "12 and three-quarters" years old, as she likes to say, and has epilepsy. She started playing sports through the Special Olympics less than a year ago and Fred Foster already has noticed a difference.
"I've really been encouraged by it," he said. "I don't hear, 'Dad, I can't do that,' anymore."
Sammi participated in the Special Olympics Area IV Spring Games yesterday at Central Catholic High School. There were athletes from seven area counties: Lucas, Wood, Henry, Erie, Sandusky, Williams, and Fulton. Winners will move on to the Special Olympics state games, in Columbus June 24-26.
About 350 athletes took part yesterday, said Jennifer Adams, Special Olympics sectional director, and dozens of volunteers were on hand to coordinate the events, which included bocce ball, volleyball, weightlifting, track and field, and cycling, which was at Toledo Speedway. The field events included a softball and tennis ball throw, long jump and shot put; track events, a wheelchair obstacle course, running races, race walks, and assisted walks.
Sammi lives in Liberty Center but is part of the Henry County squad, centered in Napoleon. Athletes can choose three events to compete in each season. Yesterday Sammi did the softball throw, 200-meter dash, and 4x100 relay, the last with three of her friends. In the fall she competes in swimming and in the winter, basketball, her favorite.
There was a long break in between her events yesterday, so Sammi passed the hours by playing games that were set up around the gym inside the school. But about an hour before she ran, she waited in anticipation outside in the stands.
"When are we going?" she asked. "I'm nervous, I can't sit down.
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"How many minutes 'til they call me?"
Fred Foster said he wasn't sure at first if the Special Olympics were the right thing for Sammi. But everyone is encouraging toward each other, he said, and it's often exciting to watch.
"I'm anxious to see her run," he said.
With sweatbands on her wrists and slip-on shoes, Sammi finished second in the 200-meter dash. She came over and hugged her dad, and called her mom to tell her the news.
Sammi's Henry County friends had fun too. Abbie Hinkleman, 19, got third in the 100-meter dash. Jessika Mallery, 10, won her heat in the event as well.
Jessika and Sammi are on the same basketball team, which finished second in the state last winter. Jessika has participated in Special Olympics for three years. At the Henry County banquet celebrating their basketball feats on Thursday, Jessika won "most improved."
"She used to be glued to me," said Jessika's mom, Robin Wenner. "This has just brightened her horizons."
Contact Maureen Fulton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.