If you want to cheer on a joyful group of people, visit The Back Bowl in Eagle at noon Saturday, Aug. 24, when the Special Olympics bowlers start their weekly practice for the season.
“They’re such a cheery bunch – they have so much enthusiasm,” said their coach, Donna Blackmer of Eagle. “I wish people were more aware of what Special Olympians could do. They cooperate so well, we might all learn something from them. Those without much are helping those with even less.”
Blackmer said she had 12 bowlers last year, ranging in age from 20 to about 55. She anticipates a similar turnout this year.
Making this year particularly exciting for the team is that The Back Bowl is hosting the regional competition for the first time on Oct. 12.
“There might be 200 Special Olympics bowlers from the surrounding counties,” Blackmer said.
Donna Pratt of Eagle-Vail said her 42-year-old son, Jason, lives for all the Special Olympics events.
“There weren’t any Special Olympics in the area when we moved here,” she said. “There were people who were doing the sports and traveling to events but there wasn’t organized programming.”
Pratt helped pull things together and Jason has been active in Special Olympics for 31 years now.
“He started bowling at least 15 years ago and The Back Bowl has been hosting it for at least the last 10 years,” Pratt said. “He loves whatever sport is going on the most. It’s been biking, now it will be bowling.”
She said bowling is popular with the athletes.
“The bowling is a real big one,” Pratt said. “It’s one of those sports anyone can do, and they all bowl better than I do.”
Blackmer became the bowlers’ unofficial coach eight years ago in a roundabout way.
“I taught high school for 30 years in Gypsum and I had students with disabilities who I kept in touch with,” she said. “I watched them bowl – they are always excited to have people watch them bowl – and I thought, I could do that (help coach and encourage them).”
Blackmer said she’s not the best bowler and she has an easier time giving instruction without a ball.
“I say, ‘do as I say not as I do,’” she said.
The instruction on technique isn’t the most important thing, anyway.
“I know the game but I also know each bowler, which is more important,” she said.
Practice starts at noon every Saturday and the group bowls two games.
“It usually takes about two and a half hours but sometimes it takes a long time,” Blackmer said.
Some bowlers have less physical ability than others and use a “ramp,” which they align with their target and release the ball down the ramp.
“We are a diverse group with many degrees of disability,” Blackmer said. “Some have greater mental ability with less physical ability and vice versa. They all help each other.”
The Special Olympics encourages that.
“It’s important that they have something to do,” Pratt said.
To learn more about Special Olympics Colorado, visit specialolympicsco.org.