The Special Olympics’ regional powerlifting invitational was held recently at Seattle’s Washington Athletic Club. The state powerlifting competition is at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County on June 3 and 4 and is a qualifier for next summer’s Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

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“These are the guys who didn’t get picked,” says Alan Rose, head coach of the Tumwater Valley Power Dragons, referring to pickup games on most playfields when teams are chosen.

That may be because of their intellectual disabilities. But in the Special Olympics, these athletes, young and old, have found a place to compete, succeed, gain social skills and feel included, thanks to the organization begun in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy.

At the Washington state regional powerlifting invitational for the organization, more than four dozen athletes are warming up for the state competition. They use a gym in Seattle’s Washington Athletic Club.

Morgan Kenske stands 4 feet 9 and weighs 110 pounds. She has Down syndrome and wants to be a bodybuilder.

She has a towel draped over her head like a boxer in a corner before taking on an opponent.

Her coach, Hannah Thayer, of the Federal Way Thunder Lifters, whispers to her.

“I wished her luck. She’s strong. I tell her to breathe.”

Kenske approaches the bar, which alone weighs 45 pounds, placing her hands on it just right.

She spreads her feet, tilts back a bit, steps back, bends her knees to the squat position and powers up a total of 85 pounds, locking her legs.

Kenske has lifted more than her weight, and about the squat says, “They’re easy.”

Her father, Gary Kenske, says, “She does it to stay fit. Morgan has dedication.”

On the Tumwater Valley team, it’s hard to miss Sam Greatwood when he’s competing.

With a room-filling bellow, he attacks the weights.

“It’s my second effort,” he says of his scream, which helps him power the weight back up.

And it’s a big lift, his best ever — 135 pounds. Greatwood says, “It feels excellent.”

Hugs and high-fives greet each competitor after every effort from coaches, teammates and other athletes.

Rose says these Special Olympians “have unconditional acceptance.”

Kenske moves on to state with first in the squat, as does Greatwood, in their categories.

The state powerlifting competition is at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County on June 3 and 4 and is a qualifier for next summer’s Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.