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Making an impact: Local Special Olympics athletes, coaches to represent team Nebraska in July at 2018 USA Games in Seattle

The North Platte Telegraph - 12/25/2017

There's an oath banner that hangs above stadium bleachers, track and fields, pools and terrain during special events across the nation that promotes inclusion, acceptance and understanding of those with and without intellectual disabilities - "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

The words carry a resonating message that sits with many, some of them being introduced to it by loved ones, while others find themselves drawn to it by the actions and courage of those athletes that participate.

For Rob Hampton of North Platte, the exact moment trails back to the state's Special Olympics in Omaha, when he saw a blind woman holding onto a baton with a string going through it, guiding her towards the finish line.

"That was the coolest thing I ever saw," Hampton said. "That's what hooked me the most. Even a blind person could run track, and everybody cheers on everybody, having a great time."

But Hampton isn't alone in delving into the Special Olympics community, where he's thrived as Head of Delegation for North Platte and now will coach Athletics (track and field) for team Nebraska in July at the 2018 USA Games. He's part of a family affair that includes his wife, Nicole Hampton, a unified partner in Bocce, who will be competing with partner Peggy Dixon, and his stepson, Jared Gies, a youth leader, which are both joining him in Seattle to represent Team Nebraska.

"My stepson joined Special Olympics first to become an athlete," Hampton said of his journey into the community. "And then we became more involved in the program through him. It's a great cause. I really love that people get to compete at their own ability and skill level."

Gies is among the 15 to 20 percent of Americans who are affected by learning disabilities, according to a study by the Eunice Kennedy Shiver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. And although his learning disability is mild compared to more severe cases, the Special Olympics community has truly impacted his life and made a difference.

"My stepson was quiet and a reserved kid and found it difficult to interact with others," Hampton said. "But since he's been involved in Special Olympics, competing at his own level, he's gained so much confidence and has surprised us all with his new found abilities. The program is a great way to bring out abilities in everybody."

Hampton has time and again seen that not just his stepson but all of the local athletes have benefited from the program.

"It happens with all of our athletes," Hampton said. "It's amazing to watch how they grow and how they blossom through Special Olympics."

North Platte was also one of the few cities in Nebraska that has been privileged enough to send five members of its delegation, two of them being athletes.

"There were hundreds of athletes across the state that applied to go to Seattle, and out of 39 selected, two were from North Platte, the other two selected are going to attend the Youth Summit and meet with other Unified high school aged athletes," Hampton said.

The two competing in Bocce will each have to raise $500 to have the funds to travel to Seattle in July, which in the past has led to charity events from law enforcement officers across the state and the North Platte Knights of Columbus chapter.

"Sending five local delegation representatives from North Platte to Seattle to be part of Team Nebraska doesn't happen that often," Hampton said. "Can you imagine the confidence-builder that going to a national USA Games is going to bring to these two athletes and the two youth leaders. The more that we can promote the message of inclusion and acceptance throughout the community, it just snowballs into a bigger movement."


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