During Special Olympics events, it can be easy to forget the hundreds of hours spent by volunteers to organize the competitions.
Volunteers spend weeks, even months, of preparation to make sure each event runs as smoothly as possible, often receiving very little recognition for their efforts.
One of those key volunteers is Ray Strekal.
Strekal has been volunteering for Special Olympics Iowa, an organization that helps people with disabilities be active, for over 40 years.
According to the Special Olympics Iowa website, the mission of Special Olympics Iowa is "to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities by giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community."
Special Olympics Iowa was founded in 1968 with its main goal being to accept and welcome individuals as they are.
Strekal was a recreational therapist before becoming a full-time volunteer with the Special Olympics.
“I like the idea of giving back to the community," Strekal said. "I love the athletes. They are great to work with. They are enthusiastic.”
Special Olympics Iowa is hosting its annual Summer Games in Ames this week, starting Thursday with the cycling competition.
The organization tries to keep the key volunteers coming back year after year. That way everything runs smoother, and they can make necessary adjustments to the events as needed.
“There’s also the coaches that have been doing this,” Strekal said. “They show up and are willing to donate their time to make these events work.”
The Summer games kicked off Thursday at 9:30 a.m. with the cycling events.
The Cycling portion of the games was held at the Iowa State Center Parking Lot on University Boulevard and Center Street.
The cycling competition, as it has been for 20 years, is being headed by Strekal.