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North Dakota power lifter takes home three golds

July 23, 2010

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Powerlifter Ben Wahlstrand celebrates his gold medal on the podium after the competition.

Photo and story by: Emily Sallach, UNL

The only thing bigger than Ben Wahlstrand’s fan following was the smile on his face. 

Wahlstrand, from Grand Forks, N.D., had 16 fans with him on Tuesday morning at Kimball Hall.  These fans were friends and family from five different states.  Some family members traveled all the way from California and Arizona to watch him compete this week, and many other fans watched him from the live online stream. 

Wahlstrand has been involved with the Special Olympics for eight years but competed at a national level this year for the first time.  He started out in Special Olympics playing basketball and in the past three years found his talent for power lifting.

Wahlstrand’s family members could barely find the words to express how proud they are of him.  They talked about how he was an over-achiever and is always pushing to do better.  He holds two jobs and was the keynote speaker at his high school graduation.

When Wahlstrand was asked to compete at the 2010 Special Olympic USA National Games, he said he “humbly accepted” the opportunity. 

He said he likes power lifting because “it makes me feel good inside, but family is what really makes me a success here.  They give me something to believe in …”

Wahlstrand will travel back to North Dakota with not just one gold medal but two.  He collected a gold medal in bench press and dead lift, while his teammate Shale Erickson was right behind him with a silver in the same events. This also meant Walhstrand took home the gold for the combined bench and dead lift, raising his total to three on the day.

Wahlstrand said he enjoyed his week in Lincoln at the USA National Games and loved getting to watch the other athletes compete and, in his words, “do amazing things.” 

He credits his trainer Adam Sorum for getting him started in power lifting and Will Kuslerr for coaching him at the state-level games. 



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Cooling off after flag football victory

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Missouri flag football player Bryan Snow gets drenched with water by other Missouri athletes after their game Thursday night. Missouri defeated the Indiana Kats to take home the gold.
Photo: Corinne Burger, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



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A reflection on things learned

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Covering the athletes, recording myself

The first thing you’re taught as young journalist is to leave your biases at home. In this case, I took them with me.

For the last two weeks the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications has been documenting the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games. This unique class allowed students to cover the USA National Games like a journalist or broadcaster.

After we collected sound-bites, video and interviews, the information was edited and published on the Internet for the world to see. We even sported official press credentials.

Beginning on July 12, students got a crash course in the world of journalism and mass media. We were taught how to use the latest professional non-linear editing software, learned how to operate three different types of high definition video cameras and were reminded that active voice is always preferred to passive voice.

Most of us may have assumed Special Olympics athletes are less capable of doing the things we might do ourselves

So how does an unbiased journalist block out the sentiment of joy when these athletes do more when they are perceived to be able to do less? We don’t. We feed this emotion on the inside by capturing it on the outside.

Scott Rohrer, 21, broke the Special Olympics international golf record this week with his 71 score for 18 holes of golf. Michigan’s Kolan McConiughey has bowled seven perfect games in his life. Team Florida’s basketball squad was so dominant in Special Olympics Games play this week that it was invited to play an exhibition game against former star high school basketball players. Team Florida won that game, too.

These performances and many more were amazing to see – and not solely as sport. The personalities were the real show.

The athletes’ enthusiasm was contagious. The high-fives never got old. The smiles were unrehearsed and could brighten the cloudiest of days. The sportsmanship was in full force. NBA commissioner David Stern should use it as a “101 good sportsmanship video” to show professional basketball players.

Bob Els, who directed the golf venue in Lincoln, said, “When you get out and watch the players play and cheer for each other, and for themselves when they make a good shot, it is something special.”

The last two weeks I have learned a lot. I am now comfortable approaching others for interviews. You do not pan just to pan while videotaping. Having a backup memory card is a must.

But what I will take most out of Special Olympics Journalism 498 is that the media have the power to shine a light on issues the public sometimes overlooks.

Journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault once said, “If people are informed, they will do the right thing. It’s when they are not informed that they become hostages to prejudice.”

Mass communications can change others’ outlooks – as well as my own.

Story by Aaron Krienert, Picture by Josh Kellams



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Tennis competition ends with smiles, medals

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Cassandra Patterson, 26, of Huntsville, Ala., smiles after winning the gold medal in the tennis individual skills competition.
Photo: Caroline Kilday University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Members of Team Alabama dance together after the tennis players received their medals.
Photo: Caroline Kilday University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Reatha Smith, 43, of Tennessee, gets flowers from her family. Smith won a gold medal in tennis.
Photo: Caroline Kilday University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Ohio tennis player Cynthia Bently, 52, hugs her family after winning the silver medal in her division.
Photo: Caroline Kilday, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Photo: Caroline Kilday, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



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Missouri basketball player hits the high note

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Missouri basketball player Darrious Roberts proudly sings the national anthem before his game Friday morning at Lincoln Southeast High School.

“He loves to perform both on the court and off,” said his grandmother, Ruth Short. His passion for singing began when he started music therapy 11 years ago. With the help of his music teacher, Lisa Casaioli, Roberts performed at a recital and raised more than $2,000 for the USA National Games.

Photo and story: Kaitlyn Burke, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



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Husband and wife officials involved for 28 years

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Photo: Summer LaPlante, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



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A family affair

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Team Delaware’s David Hill blew away spectators as he took on over 500 pounds in the dead weight portion of the competition.
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Photos and story by NaTasha Rollerson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Power lifter David Hill of Newark Delaware poses with his biggest fan in the stands, his mother Corrinne Pearson. David has been power lifting for four years in local competitions.

“David has Landau-Kleffner Syndrome (LKS) but, he has come so far in his speech that you can barely tell he has an intellectual disability” Says Corrinne.

LKS is a rare disorder that appears sometime during early childhood. A major affect of this disorder is the gradual or sudden loss of the ability to understand and use spoken language.

“David as a child could not even tell me he wanted a glass of water. People told me that I should look into David learning how to use sign language. One day David’s little sister Sara was going to touch an iron and David yelled No Sara Hot! That is when I knew he was capable of speaking and I refused to cripple my son” said Corrinne.

David started to develop his own language to communicate. His sister picked up on this language as well. Sara had to be sent to tutors to break the language she used to communicate with her brother and learn English. David saw his sister’s determination to learn how to speak and this is what motivated him to learn English.

David is now 26 years old and speaking very clearly. He is a gold medalist in tennis, basketball, bowling, and now powerlifting.

When David was asked what was the most challenging part about competing in the 2010 Special Olympics USA National games he said,

“The kilos were different, the squats were deeper, and it was heavy!!”

After the National Games David plans to continue power lifting with a personal trainer, performing in local meets in Delaware, and if it is possible he would love to compete in Worlds.



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Tennessee’s Evans a most valuable player

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Photo by Emily Walkenhorst, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Tennessee Thunder’s Kevin Evans, 18, of Columbia, Tenn., runs against the Indiana Kats in the opening game of the Division 1 traditional team playoff. Evans, who runs, catches passes and plays defense, tore up the field all week long.

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Photo by Emily Walkenhorst, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Evans keeps a smile on his face even after his team loses its last game against Missouri, 12-16.

“He’s got the best heart,” says Thunder assistant coach Miles Duncan. “He’s MVP.”

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Photo by Emily Walkenhorst, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Evans works hard and focuses on what he’s learned while playing flag football.

“It’s about having fun and being smart,” he said.

Evans intends on including football in his future in Nashville, TN.



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Unified teams making unified friends

Arizona vs. Illinois

With the addition of flag football to the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games, Payton LaCivita took the opportunity to volunteer his time and talent by joining the Arizona unified flag football team.

As a “unified partner,” LaCivita, a college student at Arizona State, is just as much as part of the team as his teammates with intellectual disabilities.

LaCivita said, “Three years ago my high school coach asked me to come and help out with these guys. I volunteered then, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The unified sports program started with an idea called “Project UNIFY.” According to the Special Olympics website, Project UNIFY’s goal is to “activate young people to develop strong communities where all young people are agents of change-fostering respect, dignity, and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities by utilizing programs and initiatives of Special Olympics.”

The program creates special bonds among teammates. For example, Marc Whatley, a 30-year old athlete from Tucson, Ariz., has found a friend in LaCivita. Both are athletes. Both love football. Both had smiles when they talked about their win. It’s their similarities that matter, not their differences.

Krista McDonald, Emily German – University of Nebraska, Lincoln, CoJMC



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Swinging hard and jumping to new heights

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Photo by: Micah Rhodes, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Sam Huffman, a Maryland Special Olympics athlete, swings over the block during a volleyball match at Abbott Sports Complex.



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