Special Olympics : The Inclusion Solution

Trent McIntosh and Nate Blaine with their Special Olympics medals.
photo by Steve Thompson/Adair County Free Press
Trent McIntosh and Nate Blaine with their Special Olympics medals.

The dictionary defines the word “inclusion” as the act of including. It’s a pretty simple definition on the surface, but quite a more complicated definition beneath the surface.

Inclusion is the theme for this year’s Iowa Special Olympics program. It could be the theme in any given year.

“A lot of these kids are looked down on,” said Jack Blaine, father of Special Olympian Nate Blaine of Greenfield. “All they want is to be part of a team.”

The big goal is to transition Special Olympians into regular athletes. It sounds like a small task, but in reality, it’s a huge hurdle for some of the kids to leap over.

Most parents take an active approach to Special Olympics, serving as volunteers at organized events, but in most cases, each team needs that one special individual that can take charge. Nodaway Valley’s “take charge” person is Susan Tridle. Tridle is the Special Education teacher serving both Nodaway Valley Middle School and Nodaway Valley High School.

“She has what it takes,” said Linda Blaine, Nate’s mom. “She cares enough to do it and has fought for everything the kids have.”

Tridle has been involved with the program for 18 years, including the past 10 with Nodaway Valley.

“I was looking for a family challenge, both mentally and physically,’ Tridle said.

Inclusion has been added to this year’s logo for Special Olympics, and it is something that pleases Tridle.

“We need to get enough people to understand that these kids do have needs, but we don’t want them to be treated special,” Tridle said. “There are so many things these kids can do, and we don’t want people telling them they can’t do it.”

Our local Special Olympic Team is called the Adair County Aces and consists of athletes Nate Blaine, Trent McIntosh, Tyler Westphal and Jordan Tridle. Without the effort of the appointed coach of the team, many of their efforts may have gone by the wayside.

“She’s stepping up and doing it,” said Janet McIntosh, whose son Trent is on the team. “There is a lot of time and paperwork involved, and she is doing it all for us.”

Tridle refuses to take all the credit, referring to the effort of the parents and special volunteers that have helped her through the years. Volunteers have to pass a test in order to be considered a volunteer for the Special Olympics.

It only makes sense that many parents get involved in the program, but Tridle, along with the parents, point to a couple of volunteers, JR Hicks and Jaime Bricker, that have been very helpful.

“They got their Class A volunteer license,” Tridle said. “They can chaperone the kids and make sure they get to the right spot for their events. Both of them are really good with the kids.”

Many have the perception that the kids just show up for the state meet, but that is far from the truth.

“They have to go through a qualification process to get there,” Jack Blaine said. “Pre-state for our kids was held at Lamoni. You have to win your event at pre-state in order to qualify for the state event. The athletes are separated by times and age.”

Most of the Aces qualified in multiple events for the state meet, which was held in different cities in Iowa, May 19-21.

Cities such as Ames, Iowa City, Marshalltown and Dubuque opened their arms and welcomed the athletes at their respective spots.

“You can’t say enough about what these cities have done for Special Olympics,” said Jack Blaine.

The Special Olympics is not much different from the regular Olympics that many are familiar with.

“The Iowa Law Enforcement ran a torch from Des Moines to Ames this year,” Linda Blaine said.

For the second year in a row, Westphal, McIntosh and Blaine joined forces to win the gold medal in 3-on-3 basketball. 

Blaine also brought home gold medals in both the 1K and 5K biking events, while Tridle grabbed a bronze in the 200-yard dash. Many around the area know Nate as a cross-country and track and field participant for Nodaway Valley High School. In fact, Blaine still takes part in Coach B’s summer cross-country camp.

The state experience for Blaine is much like that of any athlete that qualifies for state competition.

“I like meeting the kids on the other teams,” Blaine said. “We can just be ourselves.”

McIntosh brought home a gold in the standing long jump, as well as one in 1K cycling and also has an experience that is close to what many others like as well.

“I like getting out of school and going to the swimming pools at the hotels,” McIntosh said.

The Aces were also involved in receiving other medals and ribbons, as well as gold medals. But, one aspect of getting on the podium needs to change, according to Linda Blaine.

“There are six spots on the podium,” she said. “Some get medals, while others get ribbons. These kids have minimal practice time and work as hard as anyone else. I would like to see everyone get medals and do away with ribbons.”

It takes a lot of money to get the kids to their events, and the money wouldn’t be there if not for fundraising events.

“The kids go out into the community to raise the money,” said Janet McIntosh. “This year, it was self-funded from a raffle the team had with donated items from around our communities.”

The fundraising events do more for the kids than what people realize. 

“It helps to bring them out of their shell,” Jack Blaine said.

Roger Carl, a friend of McIntosh echoes Blaine’s sentiments.

“It gives the kids a lot more confidence in themselves,” he said. ‘They realize that they are making money for themselves.”

Although there is no hint of the Special Olympics being in trouble, there is a need for more volunteers to keep this going strong.

“There was about 90 percent volunteer help this year,” said Jack Blaine. “We still need a larger group of volunteers to keep it going strong.”

In the end, you just have to embrace the surroundings to understand what the commitment means.

“The kids make friends and don’t judge each other, because they’re just like them,” said Linda Blaine.

The Aces are a team and are no different than any other team in our communities.

“They like to root for each other and then high-five each other if they are doing good,” Carl said.

High schools have come on board and recognize the kids as any other athlete in school, allowing them the opportunity to receive a high school letter.

That’s the Inclusion Solution. Understand these kids, treat them equal and help with transitioning them into regular athletics.

The Aces would like to thank the following businesses and individuals for their support of the Special Olympics program in our communities: Shopko, Fareway, Jewel Box, Rardin’s Chiropratic, Family Video, Neighborhood Center, Dollar General, Fabric Creations, Greenfield Bowl, The Olive Branch, TrueValue, Fontanelle Drug, Kate Carl, Eileen Beaman and Amanda Carl.


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