The Sporting Life Of A Special Olympics Athlete

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Kelli Weissert has been a Special Olympics volunteer off and on for 10 years.

She has been a sister to Stefani for 40.

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The Special Olympics Bowling Team from Payson is (left to right, standing) Jaherr Smith, Dana Quails, Stefani Weissert, (kneeling) Tomecina Hightower, Larry Graham, Gary Bonn and Todd Orr. Not pictured is SO coach, Annie Spencer.

Although Kelli lives in the Valley and Stefani has been a Payson resident since 2001, the sisters shared the day Jan. 30 as Stefani competed with her teammates at the new Special Olympic event, Bowl with a Champion.

"Bowling was pretty good. I won a trophy and I got autographs from the football players," Stefani said.

"Stefani beat the retired Bengal player. The fact that the team got to play with important athletes made the day special and it thrilled Stefani so much to be a part of it," Kelli said.

Carol Zander, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals as well as professional athletes Glenn Davis, Bill Lewis and Brian Chiravolo, played alongside Stefani and her teammates, Jaherr Smith, Dana Quails, Tomecina Hightower, Larry Graham, Gary Bonn and Todd Orr.

Arizona Cardinals and football players from Houston, Texas were also at the event.

"This is the first year Special Olympics has sponsored bowling with the pros," Payson SO coach Annie Spencer said.

When leaves begin to show autumn colors, the Payson SO team starts practicing their moves in the lanes. They bowl from September through the state competition in December.

"These folks have been playing together for at least the seven years I have been coaching, some of them, longer than that. The entire team took first, second- and third-place medals home from state," Spencer said.

At first, Stefani worried that bowling would cut into her practice time for next Olympic event. She was ecstatic when her mother convinced her it would not interfere.

"I love my coaches and my teammates very much," Stefani said.

Stefani brought home an autographed bowling pin for her trophy shelf.

"We don't care what kinds of medals or ribbons she brings home, as long as she has fun and is a good team member," Beverley Robison, Stefani's mother said.

Stefani enjoyed Special Olympics in her high school years growing up in the Valley, renewing her activity when she moved with her family to Payson.

Now, Kelli cheers on her competitive younger sister as she participates in Special Olympics events.

Next up for Stefani, and a few of her bowling teammates, is a walking snowshoe race, after that, gymnastics, swimming and basketball competitions.

"Volunteering with Special Olympics, it impacts me because they are so gifted and yet so innocent and it just thrills me to see how happy and excited they get over the littlest things," Kelli said.

"Stefani is happy, loving and friendly. There are times she acts her age and times she acts like a 10-year-old," Kelli said.

"My sister gives me support," Stefani said. So does her other sister, Shirley and brother-in-law, Danny.

Bowling is a sport the sisters played as children, now, the avid sports fans watch NASCAR, hockey, and football on TV.

"I try to get at least a couple of tickets a season to see the Diamondbacks play, Stefani loves the Diamondbacks," Kelli said.

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