Special Olympics Kansas athletes gather in Wichita for 50th annual State Summer Games

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Hundreds of Special Olympics Kansas athletes are gathering in Wichita this weekend for the 50th annual State Summer Games.

Every year, this event brings athletes from all across the state to get the chance to compete for gold but this year means much more.

Special Olympics Kansas is dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit. It also helps them become productive and respected members of society through sports competitions.

This year, more than 1,200 athletes are participating and 2,300 people volunteering.

“Athletes have been training and competing locally for the past eight weeks in swimming, cycling, tennis and track and field events to prepare for the state games,” said Heather Waters, Special Olympics Kansas spokesperson. “Of all seven of our state level competitions throughout the year, these games are, by far, the largest.”

Vice President of Special Olympics Kansas Tim Rehder says these games are planned year round, and the team effort goes well beyond competition.

"We weren't quite sure how it was going to go in the early days, fighting for inclusion and everything and the strides we have made but we still have a long ways to go," Rehder said.

Police officers from all over the state participate in a Torch Run the day before the event, and give out medals to the athletes. Rebecca Shepherd, who is an athlete, says she is happy to have the officers participate in the Special Olympics.

"It's really awesome you know, some of us cry to see some of them. We don't get to see (them) out in the community but to see them here in the Special Olympics, its phenomenal and it's really heartwarming to get the awards from them," Shepherd said.

While these athletes work year round and are rewarded at the games, coaches say the most important ones are the ones they teach each other.

"They don't judge, they compete- they really cheer each other on," Liz Dewitt said.

All information about the 2019 Summer Games including venue details and schedules can be found here.