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Athletes and coaches prepare for NYS Special Olympics in Utica

By CAROLINE GABLE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The opening ceremonies for the New York State Special Olympics are set to get underway at 8 p.m. Friday night at Utica College, and athletes have traveled from across the state to compete in eight different sports.

Before the opening ceremonies begin, athletes will have a chance to explore the Olympic Village set up next to Gaetano Stadium on the college's campus. There will also be a parade leading into the opening ceremony, in true Olympic style.

Their bags are packed and now they ready to go - go out and do their best, hoping that their scores at this weekend's state games will allow them to move on to the National Special Olympics competition.

"Many people will look at Special Olympics and see our athletes compete and say 'oh isn't that nice,' and they won't understand that this is not a social or recreational sports program. This is a competition program," said Director of Training Bill Collins. "These guys train and compete and we stick to the national governing body of rules wherever we can, so that these guys get the same life lessons of sports.

Determination and hard work have gotten athletes this far, now with their coaches by their sides, they'll show off their skills.

This year, 1,600 athletes are competing, and even more volunteers are lending a helping hand.

"Special Olympics is...it's in our heart, it's like gold for us," said athlete Luis Lopez. "Special Olympics is...it makes us happy. It gives us confidence. I am being very honest and all these people, they are all winners. Everyone is a winner."

Their training has brought them this far, and armed with a positive attitude, it seems nothing can stand in their way of success.

"I don't know what or if I'm going to win, or what place I'm going to come in, but all that matters is that you had a good time, and you got something, even if it's a ribbon, that'll I'll be happy with," said athlete Catherine Pennacchio.

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