Opening Ceremony Kicks Off Michigan Special Olympics Winter Games

The winter games have officially begun.

Tonight’s opening ceremony marks the start of the 2015 Michigan Special Olympics.

The house was packed with athletes, coaches, volunteers and families.

The celebrations took place Wednesday, and Thursday, the competition begins.

“I’ve been doing this or four years. It’s actually been the best times of my life. I will never forget it,” said local athlete Joshua Shelton from Benzie.

For Joshua, competing in these games is something he will always cherish.

“It’s about having fun. It’s about having fun and going out there to try your best,” he said. “If I can win and if I cannot win, it will be a brave attempt. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about being brave and having fun and trying your best and just going out there to compete.”

More than 900 athletes from across the state are gathered in Grand Traverse County to compete.

This is their biggest athlete turnout since 2007.

“For a lot of these athletes the state winter games is really their chance to shine. The only chance that they have all year long to look forward to being normal, nobody looking down on them or looking at them differently, this is a chance everybody’s on the same plane,” said Aaron Mills with Special Olympics Michigan.

Although there was a big celebration here tonight, the big competition starts tomorrow.

“Every athlete who comes out here wants to win,” Mills said. “But the athletes of Special Olympics have a different perspective on life than some people do and it really shines through when they’re competing. You’ll see athletes cheering on other athletes when they’re competing and it’s really a touching thing to see.”

Time trials took place today. Tomorrow the main competitions for figure skating, snow shoeing, downhill skiing and other sports, will begin.

“I’d like to wish all the other athletes good luck in the competitions and have a good time and do your best,” Joshua said.

Some first place winners from this year’s games will qualify to compete at the 2017 Special Olympics World Games in Austria.