‘I felt left in the dark and all alone’

Koch, Amanda_BocceThis is a guest blog post from Special Olympics Missouri athlete Amanda Koch. She is a member of Team Missouri and will travel to compete in bocce at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle.

Four years ago, I did not have anything. I felt left in the dark and all alone. I had no one to talk to. I did not have a social life of friends, nor Special Olympics. I did not know about communication skills. I have always been quiet. I did not have any independence, nor have a boyfriend who i can share my life with.

My life changed when I moved in with my dad and stepmom, Debbie. I now ride horses and volunteer my time at Exceptional Equestrians, which is a therapeutic program.

Now that I am out on my own, I have everything I want. I have support from my dad and stepmom. The two of them have given me a second chance to live my life the way that I want.

On Mondays, I volunteer my time at Exceptional Equestrians. On Wednesdays, I am involved with Developmental Services of Franklin County Life Ops. We volunteer at Willow Brooke Assisted Living, learn how to cook, work on social skills, work on assertive communication, and much more. On Thursdays, I have a personal assistant that assists me with things that I don’t learn at Life Ops.

Koch, Amanda_BocceI have a job at Walgreens. I have been employed there for two years. I help in cosmetics when needed, stock shelves, and run the cash register. I mostly work in the photo lab. I can make wood panels, posters, canvases, and much more.

I get to experience my own life with a boyfriend, whom I love.

For more information about Team Missouri athletes set to compete in the 2018 USA Games, click here.

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Radio DJ Conquers Fear of Heights for SOMO

Brad Hildebrand

Brad Hildebrand rappels down the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch

In 2011, Brad Hildebrand took his first journey rappelling down 20 stories in downtown St. Louis. Why? To go Over the Edge for Special Olympics Missouri.

Over the Edge is a one-of-a-kind yearly event where participants raise a minimum of $1,000 so they can rappel down a multiple-story building. Participants not only get an adrenaline-pumping adventure but also raise money to help fund Special Olympics Missouri athletes.

Brad works for KSLQ in St. Louis and promotes a variety of different charities on his radio show. Back when he first started, Brad joined another radio station’s team to go Over the Edge so he could conquer his fear of heights.

“Quite honestly, the first time I ever did it, maybe I had a selfish motive; I wanted to raise money for Special Olympics but I also have a fear of heights. So I tried to overcome my fear of heights,” said Brad.

Much like how Brad conquered his fear of heights, Special Olympics athletes are conquering their fears and are smashing the stigma that many have associated with intellectual disabilities every time they compete in Special Olympic Missouri events.

This year’s event will mark Brad’s seventh year straight going Over the Edge for Special Olympics Missouri. Now, he is part of KSLQ’s own team that has been participating together since 2013. Every year, they are helping to make the event bigger and better by recruiting more people to join their team and raising more money for the cause.

Over the years, Brad has personally raised money by doing a lot of on-air fundraising. He also raised money by promoting the event on his social media outlets. At one point in time, he offered an advertisement deal that advertisers would buy a fundraising package that would benefit the cause.

His team has been able to raise money by talking about the event on-air since some of them are radio hosts as well. Others fundraise through networking with people they know.

Last year, his team was able to set a new personal record by raising over $11,000 and recruiting eight people to rappel on their team. This year, they are have already started their fundraising efforts for the event and are looking to double what they did last year by raising $22,000 and recruiting 16 people to rappel.

Brad enjoys the camaraderie he feels with his Over the Edge team and likes to feel like he’s making a difference in the lives of others.

“People will say ‘My cousin is a Special Olympian or my kid is a Special Olympian and thank you so much for doing what you’re doing,’” Brad said. “It’s always sort of a nice feeling you know, to have that feedback that you’re making a difference hopefully and people are appreciating it as well too.”

This year, Brad and his team will rappel down the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch on October 7. People also have the chance to raise money and rappel down the Jefferson State Office Building in Jefferson City on October 14.

To learn more and sign up to have your own thrilling and fun adventure, visit http://www.somo.org/edge

State Summer Games through the eyes of an intern

Sarah Schroll is a communications intern in the KC Metro office. She is a senior at the University of Central Missouri majoring in Public Relations.

When I first started my internship with Special Olympics Missouri in the beginning of May, I did not really know what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would be writing some, helping with tasks, and working on various projects throughout the summer, but I certainly did not know that I was going to have such a rewarding and hands on experience.

Earlier this month (June 2-4) I was able to attend my first State Summer Games. I had no idea what to expect except I knew that I would be watching as athletes throughout the state went to Springfield, Missouri to compete in a state wide competition. I did not know that I would have such a great time talking to and getting to know athletes, volunteers, and staff members.

I arrived at the State Summer Games on Friday afternoon to work on setting up the opening ceremony with my internship supervisor and Director of Marketing and Communications for Special Olympics Missouri, Mandi Steward-Ballinger. Before the games, I was able to help with some of the behind the scenes work and I was excited to see how the ceremony would turn out.

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The opening ceremony was a lot of work and I was on my toes consistently, but when the ceremony started I got to see how all of our hard work paid off. I watched as all of the athletes came into the stadium during the parade of athletes and noticed how excited and happy they were to be there. I looked around the room as the band played and saw the joy they had dancing with their families and teammates. Finally, during the torch lighting ceremony, my face lit up with a smile as I looked around the stadium as it filled up with excitement.

On Saturday, I was able to work with athletes first hand by being an event manager for turbo javelin. I was able to talk and help the athletes as they were waiting to compete and was able to see them do they best they could do in competition. It was amazing to see the athletes cheer each other on even if they were directly competing with those they encouraged. The sense of love and compassion for everyone competing was evident throughout the day. That night I was able to attend the dance and watch athletes, coaches, and families have fun and dance together.

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On the final day I was able to help check in volunteers and direct them to where they are needing to go. I then took a walk to the track and field competitions where I was able to watch more athletes compete.

My first State Summer Games was one that I will not soon forget. The excitement from the athletes was electrifying and seeing the impact that Special Olympics Missouri makes on so many people’s lives truly showed me the importance of this organization. I am excited for the next coming months while I continue to work with SOMO and I can’t wait for the next fun adventure that I will have at State Selection Camp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Olympics Missouri Breaks Ground on Training for Life Campus

(JEFFERSON CITY, MO) – Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) enjoyed a historic day for our program, Jefferson City and Missouri as a whole, as we officially broke ground on the construction of the Training for Life Campus. This one-of-a-kind facility will serve as the headquarters for Special Olympics Missouri, as well as provide our 15,312 athletes throughout the state a place to convene, train, and further their development both on and off the playing field. It will be the first facility of its kind in the world built for the sole purpose of improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by having athletic training and Healthy Athletes screenings in the same place.

The groundbreaking ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 4. With the future site of the campus on the northeast corner of US Highway 54 and Missouri Highway 179 in Jefferson City serving as a backdrop, The program featured speakers including Chair of the Training for Life Capital Campaign Committee Gary Wilbers and SOMO athlete Derek Sandbothe, SOMO President/CEO Mark Musso and Jefferson City mayor Carrie Tergin as well as photo opportunities with athletes and significant contributors to the Training for Life Campus.

“It is going to make me grow as an athlete and as a human being in every day society. That is why I am so proud to be a part of the Special Olympics and what the Training for Life Campus will do for us,” Sandbothe said. “It will give us a chance to make ourselves, to make ourselves accepted in the community and loved by others.”

Construction will begin soon after the groundbreaking, and is expected to be complete in the fall of 2018. The $16 million that has been raised to date is enough to construct the 34,000 square foot main building and multi-purpose outdoor sports field. SOMO is still looking to raise $2 million to complete the remaining outdoor training fields, including tennis courts, bocce courts, a softball field, horseshoe pits, golf skills areas, donor recognition areas and a wellness trail surrounding the campus.

In addition to athletics training, the campus will provide enrichment opportunities for new and existing SOMO programs, including free health screenings in our Healthy Athletes Program, life skills training, and our Young Athletes Program for children as young as three. These programs are specifically designed to improve health, fitness and socialization among our athletes.

“We know that the Training for Life Campus will have a great impact on our community and we’re excited about helping Special Olympics Missouri reach its goal to make this project a reality,” said Randy Allen, President and CEO with Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce. “The campus will truly be a vibrant hub for our community.”

From an economic impact standpoint, the SOMO Training for Life Campus is expected to bring approximately $350,000 per year to the Jefferson City economy. It is estimated that 1,200 athletes, along with coaches and volunteers, will take advantage of year-round training opportunities each year, which will in turn bring approximately 1,950 room nights and 7,500 meals annually to Jefferson City hotels and restaurants along with 30 permanent jobs in the Jefferson City area.

“The Training for Life Campus will be transformational for our athletes,” Wilbers said. “Our very deserving athletes will have opportunities to train, get health screenings and develop skills at the campus facilities. They’ll finally have a place to call their own.”

The site of the campus was announced in January 2015, as Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, developers, healthcare providers and business leaders came together to bring resources and support to make this project a great win for the Jefferson City area and Special Olympics Missouri. The 16.5-acre property where the campus will be built was donated by Farmer Holding Company and Twehous Excavating of Jefferson City, announced during a press conference held January 2015, and is valued at $3.2 million.

Brandon Schatsiek’s World Games Blog: Part 2

Brandon Schatsiek is SOMO’s Multimedia & Athlete Leadership Manager. He is serving on Special Olympics USA‘s communications team at the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria. Read Part 1 of this blog series here.

Now that it’s been more than a month since I returned from Austria, I figured it was as good of a time as any to FINALLY write my second blog post about my experiences with Special Olympics USA at the 2017 World Winter Games. After all, I always say better so-late-that-everyone-forgot-and-no-one-really-cares-anymore-late than never, right?

I could use the excuse that I wanted to wait until it was all over to give me real perspective on the trip, but I’ll be honest and say it’s because I was tired and lazy.

Now that I’ve confessed to my crimes, let’s get to what happened the rest of that week in Austria and give some overall thoughts before I go find something better to do around the house.

I found a way to get over my little (not-so-little) Opening Ceremony photography snafu (see blog post No. 1) only because there was so much work to do the rest of the week that I really didn’t have time to dwell and feel sorry for myself.

With all of the video work that I have been doing for SOMO, I really wanted to do something similar for all of our SO USA athletes and coaches so their family and friends back home could feel like they were in Austria with them. Photos are great, but being able to actually see their athletes moving and competing and talking about their experiences through video brings a different perspective.

I knew they’d have to be super short videos (because I didn’t have a lot of free time to spend editing), but I made a commitment to try and put one together every night. They weren’t going to have a high production value or have a lot of fancy effects and transitions because I still had to edit the day’s photos and write a text recap every night, but it was at least something.

Despite the Games being in Austria, we had quite a bit of media coverage from ABC, ESPN and other outlets. While those pre-determined athletes did a great job on their media tours, there were SO many other athletes who had great stories, but no outlet to with which to share them. I figured these videos would give other athletes some face time as well.

I was using a new editing program, so the first few videos were pretty rough around the edges, but I had a lot of fun bringing something new and different to the team.

The middle of the week was my only opportunity to go to Schladming where they were having the outdoor competitions (snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing). It wasn’t just a short road trip, either; it took more than two hours each way. Lucky for us, we had a couple of dedicated drivers that made the trip a lot more bearable. They even had WiFi so I could try and get work done on the way; I napped instead, BUT I could have worked and that was cool.

096A3318096A3318The drive between Graz and Schladming might have been my favorite part of the whole experience. Tunnel after tunnel, village after village, mountain after gloriously majestic mountain made the time fly by.

Unfortunately for all the athletes competing that week, the weather didn’t cooperate. It was either raining or it was far too warm, both of which left the snow (what little there was to begin with) more like the consistency of a Squishee at the Kwik-E-Mart.

Yes, the conditions were the same for all athletes, so the playing field was at least level in that sense, but I just felt so bad for all the athletes who had trained and competed for years to get to the world stage and have to deal with incredibly subpar competition conditions.

I was able to arrive just in time to catch one of Andrew Baswell’s runs down the mountain, which was exciting, but it didn’t end as well as we would have hoped – disqualification. I saw him later that night and he was really down on himself. I hadn’t known Baswell that long, but I felt like the three of us from SOMO (Andy Martinez included) bonded between Training Camp in December and our flights together.

A couple of us were able to sit Baswell down and explain that this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for him to be competing on this stage and that if he gave up right then and there – with one more event to go – he’d regret it forever. I told him I was proud of him for even getting this far and for trying his hardest despite the awful conditions. I walked away not really knowing if the message was well-received or not.

I planned on watching Martinez compete at the snowshoeing venue, but unfortunately they moved up his competition by 90 minutes and I was over getting video at cross-country skiing at the time. I grabbed a couple of video interviews and we headed back to the hotel in Schladming.

The only real disappointment I had in this whole experience was not being able to spend more time in Schladming. The delegation’s hotel was right in the middle of everything the little skiing village had set up for the World Games. If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine the quintessential Austrian village nestled in the Alps, this fit the bill perfectly.

Seeing as this would be the only time the whole communications team was all together, Amie took us out to an incredibly fancy restaurant right down the alley from our hotel. We enjoyed a very nice dinner with European beverages (J) and went back to the hotel to finish editing photos, videos and the newsletter.

Before I left on this trip, I knew I had two main tasks from SOMO’s perspective: 1. Represent our organization well 2. Don’t come home without “proof” you were there.

For those of you who have been to our headquarters office in Jefferson City, you have probably seen what graces the walls of our hallway back to the copy room – “proof” of past SOMO volunteers at World Games. Seeing as the Graz venues were downtown, it was going to be incredibly difficult to procure something to take home. I knew it had to be the night that I spent in Schladming.

Without trying to implicate myself in any illegal goings-on, you’ll have to come to the office to see if I was successful in my not-so-secret mission or not.

The next morning I was set to head back to Graz, but I knew Baswell was going to compete in another event, so I headed back to the mountain to try and find him. While he fell on this run too, he wasted no time in getting up, putting his skiis back on and finishing strong.

096A3591096A3591While I ran down the mountain from the media section to try and catch him before he headed back up for his second run, I was worried he was going to be upset that he fell again. I tapped him on the shoulder and he whipped around with a big smile on his face and gave me a hug.

“Did you see that I fell, but I got right back up?” he asked.

He was in much better spirits that morning. That gave me the little extra push to get through the rest of the week. I hated seeing how upset he was the night before. He could have easily quit and no one would have blamed him with the way his week had been going to that point.

But he said, “No, I’ve got this,” and stuck it out. Both Baswell and Martinez, even though they didn’t come home with as much hardware as they probably wanted, represented their hometowns, their state, their Special Olympics program, their families and themselves incredibly well and I couldn’t have been more proud of each of them.

The rest of the week was a lot of the same as before — long days and nights and early wake-up calls. They all kind of run together anymore and while I have plenty left to write, including:

  • How both of our floor hockey teams (Unified New York and regulation Southern California) overcame adversity and REALLY tough competition to win bronze medals,
  • Speed skater Cornell Gray DOMINATING the competition on his way to two gold medals and numerous personal records,
  • Making friends with Sebastian and Andreas from SO Germany on our 45-minute daily commutes to the competition venues in Graz,
  • Trying broker trade deals with volunteers for their volunteer garb in exchange for SO USA items,
  • Running around Closing Ceremony trying to do the same as above, but for sweet Special Olympics swag (hoodie from SO Austria, sweater from SO Switzerland, beanie from SO Norway),
  • Somehow (I’m not admitting to anything) potentially/maybe/possibly securing another piece of “proof” at Closing Ceremony as people were pouring out of the stadium and armed guards (not kidding) were walking the streets,
  • Running into Dikembe Mutombo at the Frankfurt airport during a flight delay, having the younger athletes on the team ask me “Who’s that?” and me subsequently face-palming because they made me feel old,
  • And last but certainly least, somehow barely making our connecting flight out of JFK to O’Hare even though boarding had ended minutes prior and the gate was technically closed.

Needless to say, I had a great time from beginning to end. It’s a TON of work getting these athletes ready to compete at this level and everyone needs to understand that these athletes truly are the best in the world at their sports.

I’m incredibly honored to have played even the smallest of roles in telling their stories and I’m grateful to them for letting me do so.

To everyone who helped make this possible for me, from athlete Allison D’Agostino for writing one of my recommendation letters to my bosses and co-workers at Special Olympics Missouri for pushing for me to go and covering for me while I was gone and to my wife, Sarah, for being okay that I leave her for two weeks and spend countless nights at home working on SO USA items, thanks to each and every one of you.

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Brandon Schatsiek’s World Games Blog: Part 1

Brandon Schatsiek is SOMO’s Multimedia & Athlete Leadership Manager. He is serving on Special Olympics USA‘s communications team at the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria. 

I was able to attend the World Summer Games in 2015 in Los Angeles as a working-vacation following SO Missouri’s softball team and tennis athlete around while visiting friends in Southern California. I had a little taste of that World Games experience and wanted more.

I was lucky enough to be selected to serve as a communications assistant for Special Olympics USA at the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria.

The first leg of our trip took us to Washington, D.C. where we met up as a team for the first time since training camp in December in Vermont. We were treated to a nice dinner and evening program that included traditional Bavarian folk music to get us in the spirit of what we’d experience while in Austria. Check out my video.

We left the next afternoon on what was my first international flight. We left late enough that we flew most of the night and while I expected to pop a few Dramamine and zonk out for the whole trip, I found myself wide awake for most of it. I don’t know if it was the nerves or what, but I hate-watched a couple of C-list movies and we made it to Vienna at 8:30 a.m., which equated to 3:30 a.m. in D.C. We boarded the bus for Graz and arrived at out Host Town around 11 a.m.

The next day we were treated to tours of a local Riegersburg Castle and Zotter Chocolate Factory. For a recap of everything the teams did that day, check out the video I put together on their one full fun day away from practice and competition.

Even as I sit here and type this out on Sunday morning, I can’t really remember a lot of what’s already happened as the days are running together already and competition has only barely begun.

floor hockeyI am housed in Graz, which is where the floor hockey, figure skating and speed skating competitions are being held. As much as it pains me to be away from our two Missouri athletes (Andy Martinez in snowshoeing and Andrew Baswell in alpine skiing), I’m relishing the opportunity to see some of the best regulation and Unified floor hockey teams in the world because I’m a Unified Partner on the Jackson County Parks and Rec Unified team. Both our regulation team from Southern California and our Unified team from New York are really, really good and they’ve already established themselves as two of the top teams at World Winter Games.

During any World Games — and on some level at the USA Games – part of the fun where you get the “good feelings” are seeing people of so many different backgrounds together, either during competition or just around Olympic Town and at the venues. My first moment at these World Games happened early during speed skating practice when you saw the United States sharing the ice with Russia, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Nippon (Japan) and more.speed skating

That day we shared a bus back to the hotel with the German national team and I was lucky enough to chat with Sebastian most of the way. He told me all about his past World Games experience (this is his fourth), his cycling trip across America (I too love riding my bike) and how good his floorball team is (VERY good, apparently, haha).

Saturday brought the Opening Ceremony in Schladming, which was a 2 ½ hour bus ride away from Graz. The countryside between Graz and Schladming is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen mountains before, sure, but the way these small villages and houses butt up against the base of the mountains creates the most beautiful backdrop I’ve ever seen.

opening ceremony raincoatsThe weather forecast called for rain and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I knew what being out on the red carpet during Opening Ceremony was like because I took photos from the media section in Los Angeles in 2015, but being able to walk in with the delegation was something I’ll never forget.

Even just sitting in the parking deck across the street waiting for the ceremony to begin, it was hard not to get goosebumps as Sweden, Switzerland and the United States went back and forth chanting to see who could be the loudest, most passionate and most patriotic delegation. There was a short period of time where a couple of athletes stepped forward and I thought we were going to have a “Step Up: Special Olympics-style dance competition” but it didn’t come to fruition. Needless to say, I was rather disappointed, haha.

Missouri 4 Opening CeremonyI met up with Andy and Andrew at that time and traded as many pins as possible with countries staged around us before we had to head toward the entrance into the stadium. Seeing not only the athletes but the Unified Partners from the New York floor hockey team get geeked out for something of this magnitude was my favorite part of the evening. If you aren’t following the backstory of that team, you need to ASAP. The Unified Partners and athletes from that team couldn’t be more different (race, economically, socially, etc.) and it finally felt like the UPs changed from thinking they were giving this experience to the athletes to experiencing it WITH them.

Everything happened so fast that it felt like we were livestock being moved from one holding pen to another until we were finally set free to walk down the red carpet. I took one side of the group for photos, while Aaron Mills (communications director of our team) took the other and it quickly turned into me just standing in the middle of the group walking backwards with my right index finger firmly planted on the button, clicking at rapid fire. Mandi told me the day before to be sure and take a moment to just look around the stadium and soak it in before it was over. I remembered this just in time before the parade was finished (they said it was the shortest distance in World Games history). While the rain was something we all worried about most of the day, it actually made for a great atmosphere and added another element to the experience.

Unfortunately, I messed up pretty badly during Opening Ceremony and didn’t account for exactly how bright it was during the Parade of Athletes, so every single one of my photos during the parade was washed out (too bright). I was so focused on getting as many photos of as many athletes as possible during the parade that I didn’t take an extra two seconds to look at the screen and make sure I had the right settings. I whisper-yelled a few curse words and sulked for the first 20-30 minutes of the actual entertainment, not because I missed out on great photos for me, but because now those athletes won’t have photos of their experience.

096A2858When I make mistakes, I have the tendency to dwell on them longer than I probably should. I’ve been trying to be better about this, but it’s something I’m working on. After Opening Ceremony, we boarded the bus for our long trip home and I got to work on this blog and editing some of my other photos from the day. I think I found a way to salvage maybe a half dozen of the parade photos in a way that makes them look a little more artsy than usual, but it’s better than nothing. Most people will probably think that was the effect I was going for anyway, so it could work out okay after all, haha.

Our skaters are taking to the ice now, so I have to get going, but I’ll try to check in at least one more time during the week. Danke schön!

Read Part 2 here.

Healthy Athletes Training: Pierce Rash

Pierce Rash, 35 has participated in Special Olympics since he was 8 years old and living in Las Vegas, Nev. He and his family moved to Missouri in 2004. In 2013, Pierce was selected to Team Missouri to compete in bocce for the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey.
He trained very hard and was thrilled to attend all of the events surrounding the USA Games! Pierce came home with four awards for his efforts and set his sights on the next games in 2018! In 2016, Pierce decided on his own that he needed to lose weight and get in better shape in order to try out in 2017 for Team Missouri. Shortly thereafter, Pierce implemented his workout plan.

Since a very young age, Pierce has worked out with Richard Simmons’s “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” He added a treadmill for the 2014 USA Games training because he knew he may need to walk up to five miles per day while in New Jersey. 13458771_1147115122018457_2255665629168221542_o

To train for the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, Pierce has become even more serious about his training and told his mother that he wanted to focus on losing weight. The plan is to eat less, eat something healthy every three hours, drink more water, add an elliptical regimen and perform two workouts per day.

Pierce looked over every DVD at Wal-Mart for work outs and made the decision to go with Billy Banks’s “Taebo.” Pierce’s parents tried to discourage that DVD since it seemed very high energy and fast paced, but Pierce was insistent he wanted to try. His parents have been amazed with his dedication and performance!

Over the months, Pierce saw the pounds dropping and his body shrinking! He became obsessed with his workouts and sees this as fun and something he looks forward to every day. Pierce’s parents became amazed with his commitment to getting into shape and made sure he knew it was okay to “treat” himself with something he gave up (cookies, French fries, etc.) every once and a while.

As of his last check up in January, Pierce has lost 51 pounds without the help of any pills or powders and has gone from a size 40 pant to a 32. Pierce does one workout in the morning and then again around 3 p.m., which helps keep his metabolism burning off the pounds.
Pierce has been working hard on his form in bowling which is the sport that he wants to try out for at the Special Olympics Missouri Selection Camp. He is looking forward to the State Indoor Games in Ft. Leonard Wood where he is hoping for a gold medal which will allow him to try out for the team.