FAIRMONT - Special Olympics plays a huge role in the lives of many people with disabilities. However, it has been missing from Martin County for several years.
"We do the recreational part, but we're not connected with any of the state groups," said LeeAnn Erickson of ARC Southwest. "The training for coaches was intense, and a heavy time requirement, and if a coach couldn't go, then the team couldn't play."
But some easing of restrictions, including making some training available online, has helped clear the hurdle.
"It's about 45 minutes online to become a level one coach, which is like an assistant coach," said James Miller, who is helping to bring Special Olympics back to Martin County. "To become a level two, or a head coach, there needs to be enough people interested - at least five - for someone to come down and work with us."
Along with the online training, those interested in coaching need to fill out a volunteer form and submit to a background check. So far, there are the five interested potential coaches to make a go of formal Special Olympics training.
"With five coaches, they can support 16 to 20 athletes," said Andrea Miller.
The Miller family got involved with Special Olympics through Andrea's work as a physical therapist, and having a son who has Down Syndrome.
"We knew of nothing in the area, so we started a support group," Andrea said of the aftermath of their son's diagnosis. "From there, we learned about Partners in Policy as part of the Minnesota Council on Disabilities ... Then we dug more into local activities."
At the time, Andrea worked in Blue Earth, and learned that many of her Iowa patients were involved with Special Olympics.
"There is a very involved Special Olympics program around Algona," she said. "We wanted to get our son involved."
While their son is still under the age requirements for Special Olympics, there is another event aimed at children ages 2-7:?the Young Athletes Program.
"[It] is open to children both with and without disabilities," Erickson said. "It's more focused on skill-building, for kids to learn how to hit a ball, to skip and jump, get better body coordination."
"It's another component we hope to bring," Andrea Miller said. "Plus the fact it's open to kids with or without disabilities."
However, younger children can train alongside the Special Olympic athletes.
"Another thing about Special Olympics is that it's a unified competition," James Miller said. "It's also adaptive for all disabilities, adapting to all levels. It's broken down into different classes, giving different disabilities and more variations for people to compete."
Some of the people involved include a woman on the ARC board who is involved with Special Olympics in Jackson, and a man who has a sister involved in Special Olympics.
"Our family benefitted from the organization so much," said Rex Hernes, whose sister Ruth is a Special Olympics athlete. "This is a chance for me to give back so other families can have that. It's also a little selfish for me, because you can't walk away from a Special Olympics event without feeling inspired and uplifted."
The group is planning for the first event - track and field - to be held May 5.