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Montana Special Olympics begins three years of family and friends in Billings

Posted at 3:36 PM, May 16, 2024

BILLINGS — The First Interstate Arena was host to hundreds of athletes from around Montana Wednesday night for the opening ceremony for the 2024 Special Olympics Montana games, marking the event's three-year stay in Billings.

“(Competitors are) all running and giving each other hugs and it’s a competition, but they are coming together," said Holli Bennett, the director of Silver Bow Developmental Disabilities Council Incorporated in Butte.

The event included a torch lighting, notable speakers like Billings Mayor Bill Cole, honorees, and a dance party, but athletes said they were most excited to connect with family and friends.

“It makes our relationship stronger," Jessica Hasler, a competitor, said about herself and her boyfriend, Payton Miller, who is also a competitor.

Many said despite the bonds, there remains a focus on friendly competition.

"I feel like a champion," said competitor Frank Zapada, who has earned over 100 medals during his special Olympic career.

It is estimated that coaches, volunteers, and organizers contribute hundreds of hours throughout the year to make the event come together.

“People who have never been to a special Olympics event or participated in anything like this, they should come and experience what it does for your soul," said Bennett.