About 900 athletes will congregate at the UC Davis stadium and pool this June, as UC Davis hosts the Northern California Special Olympics Summer Games.
The UC Berkeley campus hosted the first Special Olympics Summer Games in Northern California in 1995. The Summer Games have been held there for the past few years, but due to planned renovations to the campus‘ pool and track this summer, organizers searched for other sites that could support the size of the group, have the appropriate facilities and are visitor friendly.
“UC Davis fit us perfectly,” said Kirsten Cherry, vice president of public relations and communications for Special Olympics Northern California. “They have a wonderful new stadium, facilities and a great central location for athletes who are coming from 30 plus counties in California, and very accommodating.“
The athletes will compete in four sports – aquatics, bocce ball, tennis, and track and field – at the June 26 through 28 competition.
“It actually works out fantastic for them,” said Lina Layiktez, director of Campus Events and Visitor Services. “There is a lot of level walking ground. Everything is flat in Davis so it’s a great campus for their needs.“
The athletes go through various competitions to qualify at the games. Athletes train for six to eight weeks and participate in a regional competition beforehand.
Kara Piantidosi coaches about 30 athletes on Oakland’s aquatics team.
The team begins training three months before June’s competition. To qualify for the Summer Games, athletes must receive a silver or gold medal in their event at the spring regional competitions. Typically eight to 12 of the aquatics team’s athletes go to the summer games.
To prepare for the games, Piantidosi holds practices twice a week, concentrating on stroke training, endurance and performance. The team also spends time stretching and talking about teamwork.
“That’s really big for us,” Piantidosi said. “We want to focus on the team aspect even though swimming is an individual sport.“
Piantidosi said she is looking forward to visiting Davis because the campus is easy to get around.
“As coaches and chaperones we have to be in charge of our athletes and it’s trickier when you have to walk down streets of Berkeley to get to the [site],” Piantidosi said. “I think Davis is going to be even better. The weather is always going to be wonderful with Davis. I think the less transporting we have to do with the athletes the better. It gives them a sense of freedom as well.“
According to the website, athletes must attend a minimum of eight practices. Both children and adults participate, and children must be eight years old to be eligible.
Headquartered in Pleasant Hill, Special Olympics Northern California serves 13,000 people with developmental disabilities through year-round training and competitions. Northern California is one of 52 Special Olympic programs that offer Summer Games.
The opening ceremony will be held at Aggie Stadium. The events are free and open to the public.
“To be able to host these Special Olympics Summer Games is an honor,” said Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef in a written statement for the Special Olympics news release. “We will have the privilege of watching the best of the best – a thrill for the athletes and a thrill for us.“
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.