Standing atop the podium, only half an inch separated the first and second place shot put throwers at the Iowa Special Olympics in Ames on Friday. Nick Doner donned the gold medal around his neck.
Doner has participated in the Special Olympics for four years, coached by Kelsey Preston for three of those.
"He's very athletic, I don't really have to do much," Preston said.
Preston's favorite sport to coach is shot put, since she did it in high school. The practices are usually ran with the help of only one other person to record distances and help retrieve balls. She said that despite some challenges, it really helps that the participants are eager to learn.
"When people start out, they are very frustrated and they're throwing it like a softball," Preston said.
One of the more challenging aspects of coaching is demonstrating the different skills that the athletes will need to utilize.
"It's awesome to be able to see people who may not get it completely and then that 'ah ha' moment," Preston said. "And each year, people have gotten better and better.
"Like Nick, he’s always been one of the best people that we’ve had, but he’s gotten better each year, and it’s good to see that."
As a multi-sport athlete, participating in both shot put and running long jump, Nick says what it's all about.
"Just trying your best. Just having fun," Doner said.
Doner's favorite part of the Special Olympics is competing against his fellow athletes.
"Everyone's having fun, whether they win or they lose, they all have fun," said Brad Heitman, a friend of Doner's. "That's the important thing. They're out with their peers instead of at work. They get to have fun and walk around and do what they want to do."
Preston agreed. She said everyone always seems to have a great time during the events.
"They're not always able to go do fun things like hang out at a hotel for three nights," Preston said. "It's fun to be able to do that and get out of town."
Kelsey described a situation that happened behind the pad while the shot put throws were being measured. Two of the cones were knocked over with one throw because they were so close together.
"The cones were pretty much on top of each other," Preston said. "[The athletes] were like, 'So how much did you beat me by? Half an inch? Oh, that's cool, good job, man.' So that's pretty cool. I work with some very ecstatic people."
Heitman said that watching Doner succeed is the most rewarding experience he's gotten from the Special Olympics.
"Their sportsmanship is by far something we could all learn from," Heitman said.
The athletes exemplified this. High fives were seen at every turn, congratulations offered to each and every athlete, and most importantly, everyone seemed to be having a good time.