by Trevor Hass
There are few feelings more gratifying for Big Lake resident Deb Varner than watching one of her foster kids compete and excel in Special Olympics events.
On Wednesday, she helped James Kasper participate in bocce at the VFW Soccer Fields in Otsego. She guided Kasper, who has chronic lung disease and Down syndrome, to the proper position, and Kasper threw the bocce balls forward with gusto.
“It’s wonderful,” Varner said. “Just watching his face, he loves it.”
Varner took in Kasper six years ago when Kasper’s mother died. Kasper, 46, almost lost his battle with chronic lung disease in February, and he still requires additional oxygen on a daily basis. He and Emily Anderson competed against each other, tossing their balls toward the little white pallino in front of them.
Kasper takes part in basketball, bowling and bocce, and these sports have given Varner a way to get even closer to him over the years.
“I haven’t regretted it a minute. He’s such a sweetheart,” Varner said. “They didn’t expect him to make it this far.”
Denise Roesner has also had an overwhelmingly positive experience with Special Olympics as a coach based in the St. Cloud area. Her daughter, Chelsea, competes in bowling, track and bocce, and Chelsea may take up swimming soon.
Roesner said bocce is 24-year-old Chelsea’s favorite sport, so Wednesday was a particularly enjoyable day for her. Working as a coach is extremely rewarding for Roesner, and she said the athletes remind her that there’s joy in the world.
Winning makes the day even sweeter for some, but that’s not the point. These athletes relish the opportunity to compete in sports and enjoy the day with their families and friends, regardless of the outcome.
“Just watching the athletes, they’re happy no matter what happens,” Roesner said. “It’s nice to see that in this current society.”
Program manager Emily Dierberger has been involved in Special Olympics around Minnesota for years. She volunteered at her first event, a bowling competition, in eighth grade. She met an athlete named Tom, who bowled in her lane. The two hit it off, and they’ve been friends ever since.
Dierberger still sees Tom at events 12 years later, and they always say hello and share a smile and a story when they reunite. She’s also formed a friendship with another athlete as a unified partner. They typically hang out once a month, and they saw “Finding Dory” together recently.
She has the privilege of having a job she truly loves. As she puts it, she’s here for them. Dierberger loves meeting athletes, such as James and Chelsea, and getting to know them. The sweetest part is the friendships, and the sports are an added perk.
“Once you go to these competitions and you volunteer, you get hooked,” Dierberger said. “It’s a blast to see these athletes and see everybody participate. You end up forming relationships with them.”