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VOLUNTEERS HELP ATHLETES SHINE IN SPECIAL OLYMPICS

SHARE VOLUNTEERS HELP ATHLETES SHINE IN SPECIAL OLYMPICS

Robert Dalrymple has been competing in the Special Olympics for 12 years.

"I started when I was 8 and have loved it ever since," he said Thursday at Brigham Young University, which is hosting the summer games for the eighth year in a row.Dalrymple, from Salt Lake City, is one of 1,643 athletes competing in the event, which goes through Saturday.

Dalrymple said he runs twice a week in preparation for the games. His 123 medals attest to the fact that training works. Dalrymple ran 13 miles a night training for the St. George Marathon but then decided not to compete.

Dalrymple had just finished playing softball - where his team won both games - and said he will also run in the 800-meter race.

"I just do it all," he said.

Dalrymple's attitude is the reason for the Special Olympics, said Lori Bradley, director of public relations and community affairs for the Utah Special Olympics.

"I do it because of the athletes and the volunteers," she said. "It gives me an opportunity to see the best side of people."

Several athletes walked by and gingerly tapped Bradley's shoulder as she spoke. One, named Elaine, stopped and hugged Bradley, then said, "You know I love you."

Bradley almost cried as she described watching a wheelchair athlete race, taking nearly three minutes to go the last 2 feet - with volunteers and competitors cheering her to the finish.

"To watch her face as she (crossed the line)," Bradley said. "She looked up at her coach and she just beamed."

Bradley began as a volunteer four years ago with the Special Olympics and did that until this year, when she assumed her current position. But she knows the volunteers make it work.

"They literally put their lives on hold and they're here," she said. One hundred volunteers are in management positions and have planned and coordinated since January for this year's Olympics. Another 2,000 volunteers will work during the events, helping athletes, cheering and praising.

The athletes are housed in the Provo and Spanish Fork National Guard armories and in several area motels. The Utah Special Olympics pays for the rooms, said Michael Johnson, opening ceremonies producer. Volunteer host families used to house athletes during the Olympics, but that practice was stopped nationally because of reports of abuse against the athletes, Johnson said. No allegations were ever made in Utah.

Bradley also praised Hardee's for their corporate sponsorship. "We wouldn't survive without them," she said.

There is always room for more volunteers, Bradley said. Those interested should come to BYU's track, where they will watch a short video on working with handicapped athletes.