Special Olympics athletes climb to new heights at Camp Shriver

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - One day out of the year, there's a big group of kids that descends upon the Alaska Rock Gym for a different kind of summer camp: Camp Shriver, a two-week sports camp for middle and high school students both with and without intellectual disabilities.

"We're all working through different fears and insecurities," said Eric Wickenheiser, operations manager at the gym, "so it's kind of the beauty of the sport that we all challenge ourselves."

As part of Camp Shriver, which this year is being held in July, Special Olympics athletes head to various locations around Anchorage to try out some sports they already know, and some they're being introduced to for the first time.

"Athletics are an all-inclusive activity if we choose to view them that way," Wickenheiser said, "and Special Olympics and Camp Shriver do a great job."

One of the favorites on the Camp Shriver schedule is a morning or afternoon spent climbing 45-foot-tall walls and shorter bouldering routes at ARG.

Jason Hwang, a participant in this year's climbing session who faces intellectual challenges of his own, said the camp is a great opportunity for Special Olympics athletes to get out and do something different.

"I feel like I'm free as the wind," he said of climbing at the rock gym. "It's fun."

For athletes like Hwang, even a short climb can lead to big changes.

"They kind of start out and they're really nervous," said Allison Jimenez, one of the volunteers at the climbing session. "Then, once they overcome it, you're like, 'Oh! I helped them achieve this goal,' and they feel great about themselves and have a great day."

The climbing challenges of the day may even open new possibilities for tomorrow.

"My dream is to be a chef," Hwang said. "This just proves people with disabilities can do anything.

"I feel super proud," Hwang said of making it to the top of some of the taller walls.

This week is the second and final week of this year's edition of Camp Shriver. Included in the rest of the schedule are yoga, basketball, volleyball and others, with the big closing ceremony and awards picnic happening next Friday.

You can learn more about the events by clicking here. Special Olympics Alaska is also always looking for volunteers. More information on that can be found on the SOA website.

Video by multimedia journalist Beth Verge.
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