Special Olympians 'Unify' With Their Partners At USA Games In Seattle

Source: Sun Sentinel 


A group of Special Olympians from Broward County and some of their Victory Living Programs unified partners packed up their athletic gear and equipment and headed out to Seattle, Washington for the Special Olympics USA Games.


Broward County Special Olympics was represented by 11 athletes and one coach for the week-long national competition. There were over 4,000 athletes and coaches from 50 state programs competing in 14 team and individual sports.


Athlete Ira Varnum (Pompano Beach) and his unified partner Phillip Gray (North Lauderdale) were among the participants in the unified bowling competition, while athletes Lorraine Nilson (Cooper City) and Daniel Pinero (Pembroke Pines) competed in the traditional doubles bowling event.


Golf coach Greg Mingo was there to assist athlete Megan Magee and unified partner Beverly Magee (Plantation) in unified doubles golf. The sport of bocce was well represented with two unified teams: athlete Ricky Kodish (Coconut Creek) and unified partner Andy Hanken (Oakland Park); and athlete Andrew Fratelli and his unified partner Jane Fratelli (Fort Lauderdale). Ricky Scott of Margate was selected for the swimming competition.


Victory Living Programs, based in Fort Lauderdale, has for the last four decades been assisting individuals with disabilities become more independent with their lifestyles. The organization offers various programs that includes securing and maintaining employment, development of new skills, training, community involvement through volunteering and socializing with peers.


Gray was recruited to team up with Varnum as a unified bowling team four years ago and the partnership has flourished. Special Olympian Scott is another member of Victory Living Programs and came away from the games with two gold medals and a bronze medal. Both Special Olympians had a large rooting section from members of the Victory Living Program.


“The Unified Sports concept is a wonderful thing that builds greater understanding for all parties involved,” said Victory Living Programs Executive Director Bobbie Wigand.

“People learn to see the capabilities of our athletes instead of looking at their disabilities. Phillip has developed a very strong bond with Ira. We are all very excited for Ira and Ricky and the other Special Olympians from Broward.”


Varnum was the toast of the alley lanes with his unorthodox but effective style of bowling. The 41-year-old multi-dimensional athlete came home with three silver medals from the national games. If he isn’t bowling at Tamarac’s Sawgrass Lanes he is competing in basketball, volleyball and flag football.


Gray is one of Varnum’s biggest fans.


“I look up to the guy and he keeps me going,” Gray said. “Ira has a lot of confidence on the lanes and has a swagger about him. He pushes the ball out with two hands and has perfected the motion. He consistently bowls around 170-180 and is accurate with his spares. Everybody comes away impressed.”


Seattle rolled out the welcome mat for all the athletes and made it a special occasion for the Special Olympians.


“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Gray said. “It was an electric atmosphere and the Opening Ceremonies were just amazing. This is my first time going to the Special Olympics USA Games and I would love to do it again with the games coming to Orlando in 2022.”


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