While a Gila monster is a heavy, slow moving, venomous lizard native to Arizona, Payson’s version of the species turned into an agile, mobile bundle of vigor at the Special Olympics Unified Bowling Team Tournament.
In the lane frays contested Feb. 17 to 19 at the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., Payson’s team of Anne Spencer, Todd Orr, Shelly Orr and Carol Nethan captured gold, silver and fifth-place medals.
The team finished second among the four-person teams to take the silver. In doubles competition, Spencer and Todd Orr teamed up for a first-place finish and the gold, and Nethan and Shelly Orr were fifth.
Spencer attributes the team’s success in Reno to “encouragement, determination and having a lot of fun.”
In preparation for the championships, Payson’s entrants practiced regularly at Rim Country Lanes, which they call their home-sweet-home bowling alley.
Competing on the national scene in Reno was nothing new for Spencer, who just last year teamed with Heather Werlinger, Ken Bonn and Gary Boon to qualify for the SO National Team Tournament held in Las Vegas, Nev.
Unified Special Olympics is a program which teams special-needs athletes with individuals without disabilities. The SO athletes and partners compete and practice alongside one another, rendering the program unique in world sports.
Only two years ago, Unified was added to the Payson Special Olympics program.
Longtime Payson Special Olympics coordinator and coach Becky Derwort believes the benefit of having Unified Sports is that it helps athletes learn new sports, develop higher-level skills, form friendships and learn to play a valued role on a team.
State Special Olympic officials said the idea of combining athletes with and without disabilities on one team was first introduced in the mid-1980s to provide another level of challenge for higher-ability Special Olympics athletes, and to promote equality and inclusion.