LIHUE — For Special Olympians, it was their time Saturday and Sunday at Lihue Lanes.
They made the most of it.
Randy Bristol, after knocking down pins with a smooth, straight roll, walked through the fired-up crowd with a huge grin, slapping hands as he made his way to his mother, Paula, who sat watching. The two held hands and shared a brief hug in celebration.
“He’s having a good day,” she said as he returned to his fellow bowlers.
Every strike was met with cheers and high fives. Every spare was cause for smiles and fist pumps. And even when pins were left standing, well, there were still encouraging words and pats on the back. Bowlers were colorful, too, as they gave it plenty of body language, waving their arms and urging the ball in the direction they wanted it to go.
“The athletes are all pumped up and excited,” said Jocelyn Barriga, area director for Special Olympics on Kauai.
It showed throughout the two days of bowling featuring about 85 Special Olympians. Saturday, they competed in the annual singles tournament and Sunday was unified, when special athletes were teamed with guest partners outside of Special Olympics. They rolled three games each day.
While they’re having fun, it was serious, too, and they wanted to do well. At stake was a trip to Oahu to compete in the state Special Olympics bowling tournament in November.
“It means a lot to them,” said Leona McDermott, whose son Kaimana threw the ball with great velocity, then displayed an animated style after each shot, intently watching the direction of the ball. “They get to come out and mingle with regular kids, so it brings out the best in them.”
They were motivated, too, because they love to get strikes in the tournament, often marked by whoops and yells.
“It’s something for them to look forward to,” she said.
Special Olympian Chaunci Cummings was smiling during a brief break from bowling. She said she enjoyed meeting new people, having fun and doing her best.
“I did good on my last game yesterday,” she said.
Samantha Gilbert, who was partnered with a Special Olympian, was glad to help out and be part of the event that spotlights the special athletes and their abilities. She said events like the bowling tournament are good for the community because they bring so many people together with different backgrounds but common goals.
“I love it because it has such a welcoming environment,” she said.
Barriga said the Special Olympians are always determined and won’t give up, regardless of whether the bowl rolls into the gutter or stays true and sends all 10 pins flying. They love their coaches, being with other bowlers, and cheering each other on.
“This is their time,” she said. “No matter what happens, they’re always happy and celebrating.”