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Rod Boam, for the Deseret Morning News
Travis Anderson of Nibley celebrates his gold medal in swimming during the Special Olympics at Utah State.

LOGAN — Emily Hastings was all smiles.

The 22-year-old from Kearns had just tied for first place in the Special Olympics by squatting with a 155-pound barbell on her shoulders.

It didn't matter to her that there were only three women in the powerlifting competition. The Special Olympics are more about participating than winning.

"Special Olympics is like a second family to me because I have all my friends here," Hastings said.

More than 150 athletes from throughout northern Utah converged on Utah State University on Saturday for the annual Special Olympic Indoor Games.

Some have cerebral palsy, others have Down syndrome or muscular dystrophy, and some have developmental disabilities. Some are thin, preteen girls; others are balding, middle-aged men. Some are even in wheelchairs.

But all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Michael Prill, a 21-year-old from Salt Lake City, used his 6-foot, 8-inch frame to lead the Dyno Stars to a 51-33 victory over the Hartvigsen Howlers of Salt Lake in the basketball tournament.

Prill, a center who averages 10 points a game and prides himself on his killer defense, said he plays simply "for the fun of it."

Unlike in some Special Olympic events, the coaches were allowed to play with the athletes in Logan. Daniel Grant, a 25-year-old criminal justice major, coaches one of Weber State University's three Special Olympic basketball teams.

He said it's gratifying to see a new, shy athlete join the team and quickly be accepted. And he said the players encourage each other when things go badly instead of getting down on each other.

"Honestly, I love it," said Grant, who played football and basketball for the University of New Mexico. "It's too much fun."

Special Olympics is a nonprofit organization that provides year-round sports training to more than 2.25 million people with disabilities in more than 160 countries. Various groups sponsored the Indoor Games in Logan, including Harmons grocery stores, Weather Shield window manufacturers and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

A grant from USU's Val R. Christensen Service Center also helped fund the event, and more than 250 volunteers, mostly USU students, assisted. In addition to basketball, swimming and powerlifting, there were opening and closing ceremonies and a dance at the end of the day.

Cameron Salony, the event's director, said sports teach disabled people how to get along in society.

"It helps them develop and gain social skills and interact with others," Salony said. "They have to follow the rules. They have a good understanding of what's expected of them."

Winners in the powerlifting and swimming events received gold, silver or bronze medals, as in the traditional Olympics. But, unlike the traditional Olympics, no one went away empty-handed Saturday. Every athlete received at least a ribbon, Salony said.

But he said his reward is watching the athletes compete.

"The thing I love about it is just seeing them smile and clap their hands," Salony said. "They shake everyone's hand — high fives all around."

For powerlifter Hastings, the games were an opportunity to set personal records.

"It's that I know I can do better than I can," she said.

Her mother, Barbara Hastings, said Emily prepared for her winning performance by working out at Gold's Gym three times a week.

"She's put in the time it takes," the elder Hastings said. "We know that she's trained hard and deserves it."

Barbara said the Logan event is important to her daughter, Emily.

"She looks forward to it all year long."


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