On the right track

St. Croix Valley Lumberjacks enjoy home field advantage at SOM Summer Games

By ERIK SANDIN – Stillwater Gazette

The St. Croix Valley Lumberjacks are confident about their medal chances at this week’s Special Olympics Minnesota Summer Games at Stillwater Area High School.

After all, the team has the home field advantage.

The site of the SOM Summer Games field events is the same Pony Stadium track that Lumberjack track-and-field athletes practice on in the spring. That fact boosts the confidence of the SCV team members, according team spokeswoman Karen Crotty.

"When you run on a track you’re familiar with, you get an advantage," she said.

Crotty said the Lumberjacks "were really excited" when the team learned earlier this year at SAHS was selected as host site of the SOM Summer Games.

"A lot of our athletes don’t have a lot of support when they go to competitions," she said. "Having the games in Stillwater will give people who normally can’t go to competitions the chance to come to the games and support the athletes. It’s such a great opportunity for Stillwater as a whole."

Crotty said the Lumberjacks will compete only in the "athletic events," or track-and-field portion of the Summer Games and not in the two other events at SAHS, tennis and volleyball. She adds that team members in the athletics event have been practicing since early spring.

"Actually, we started weekly training practices in April," she said, adding that many team members also practice and exercise on their own at local health clubs throughout the year.

"It shows people that the intellectually disabled can do things everybody else does," Crotty said. "Our athletes work very hard."

Crotty adds that there are three Lumberjacks who are strong medal contenders at the games. They are:

Kristina Fritz of Stillwater, a returning medalist from the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, in the 200-meter and 800-meter runs.

Austin Hackley of Mahtomedi, a runner who has finished marathons. "He’ll be doing the 1,500, the 800 and the 400-meter runs," Crotty said. "He never looks tired. He’s one of those guys who likes to run."

Katelyn Thompson of Stillwater in the 200-meter dash and the running long jump.

But Crotty points out that Fritz, Hackley and Thompson are just three of nearly 200 Lumberjack team members competing in at least eight sports lead by 80 coaches. Sports offered by the Lumberjacks besides track and field are golf, flag football, bowling, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, basketball and aquatics. She adds that if an athlete wants to play a sport not offered by the Lumberjacks, that athlete can join a team in a neighboring community that offers the sport they are interested in.

"We have on our roster 180 athletes," Crotty said. "What’s really nice is if another community like Woodbury offers softball, you can go down there and play softball."

Although softball is not part of the SOM Summer Games, Crotty is confident the Lumberjacks will do well on the track and in field Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

"We have several athletes that have competed on the national level," she said. "I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of gold medals. We have many experienced athletes and they’re so hyped that they are going to do their best."