The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi Friday, but closer to home, hundreds of Olympians got their start Wednesday night.
For the fifteenth year, Special Olympics Michigan is taking over the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.
The atmosphere was energetic as the athletes entered the Governor??s Hall for the event.
??We've got confetti flying, we've got foam flying all over the place,?? said Aaron Mills, public relations and social media coordinator for Special Olympics Michigan. ??Athletes come down a big tunnel to a huge welcome. It??s a massive ceremony to get everybody pumped up.??
The torch was lit, opening the games for more than 900 Special Olympic athletes from 60 Michigan counties. This year??s participation is the largest athlete turnout in seven years.
??Every year I do it and I have so much fun I have to come back!?? said Eli Csernyant, a Special Olympian participating in multiple events.
Army National Guard Specialist Moses Wilson was there to dedicate the Special Olympic flag he flew while on duty in Afghanistan. Like so many others, Wilson said it's all about supporting the athletes.
??Seeing the kids, not just kids, the athletes in general, seeing the smile on their faces,?? said Wilson.
The Wertz Warriors, who undertake a seven day, 900 mile fundraising snowmobile ride, presented Special Olympics Michigan with a check for $285,000. Warrior Robert Short said the ceremony is what they work for the entire year. ??It really touches your heart and makes the whole year worth it.??
??We're blessed to have such awesome people to help us. We couldn't ask for anything better at all,?? said Csernyant.
??Since they started back in the 1980's they said they've raised $9.1 million for Special Olympics Michigan and that's just insane. The number of athletes?? lives they've touched over the years is crazy,?? said Mills.
Hundreds of volunteers put in hours to make the games run smoothly, and they don't do it for recognition.
??I got addicted to helping,?? said Short.
??While they're here to cheer on the athletes, the athletes love getting the recognition and they love giving it right back,?? said Mills.
Two Olympians were honored with Wertz jackets Wednesday night.
The athletes participated in time trials for snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, speed skating gearing up for the main competition.
The events start Thursday morning at the resort as well as at Howe Ice Arena. They wrap up Friday afternoon.
There is no charge to get into the events.