Special Olympics takes place in the heart of northern Michigan

More than eight hundred Special Olympics Michigan athletes from over sixty counties arrived Tuesday in Traverse City, along with six hundred coaches, chaperones, and volunteers. Events take place at the Grand Traverse Resort, Shanty Creek, and Howe Ice Arena through Friday, Feb. 10.

The day started off with time trials Wednesday, and fun events for the afternoon- including arts and crafts, zumba classes, xbox gaming, and a movie. The U.S. Coast Guard flew in by helicopter, opening up the doors and standing by to explain what all of the buttons and switches control.

The Wertz Warriors thirty-first annual 900-mile snowmobile endurance ride brought them to the GT Resort , and they opened up their trailer for the public to see all of their repair equipment and snowmobile supplies. This year, they have had to drive some of the way due to lack of snow.

The Opening Ceremony took place Wednesday evening, beginning with the Wertz Warriors being welcomed to loud applause, cheering, and high-fives. Madison Hertel sung the national anthem and thanks were noted to all of this year's sponsors. The Knights of Columbus and the Wertz Warriors presented their donation check this year - a $285,000 donation to Special Olympics! The Warriors have now raised over 8.75 million dollars for Special Olympics Michigan!

Two awards were given out during the ceremony also- the Rick Vandersloot award, in memory of the Special Olympics athlete, honors an athlete who's shown to be a true sportsman, and trained and competed with the knowledge and understanding that "nothing is impossible if I try." The award went to Valerie Cronk from Area 33. The other award is named after Timothy Bunbury, a skier who passed away at a young age. This award's given to an alpine skiing athlete who's trained with enthusiasm, achieved excellence at their level, and has a great sense of humor. This year's winner is Robert Lee Barton of Area 16.

The Ceremony concluded with the lighting of the eternal flame, and afterward a rowing race, a dance party, and a movie session took place.

The theme of the 2012 State Winter Games is Heroes. Kim Purdy, the Senior Director of Public Relations for Special Olympics Michigan stated that "Sports are used as a vehicle to provide these athletes an opportunity to experience unity, inclusion, joy, and friendship, and it changes their lives-and it changes the lives of our volunteers." In the words of Teadora Spremo of Ann Arbor, an athlete competing in cross country skiing, "Good luck everybody!" She stated the oath for us as well- "Let me win, but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt."

Everyone is encouraged to get out and cheer loudly for the competitors the next couple of days!