Special Olympians successful at USA Games | Eveningstar

Ashlynn Heller and Romano Ritenour may have found their luggage a little heavier when they returned from Florida last month.

The DeKalb County Special Olympians both returned from the United States Special Olympics in Orlando, Fla., after winning three medals each.

Heller took one of each species. She won gold in the 100 meters (17.58 seconds), silver in the 4×100 relay (1:15.61) and bronze in the mini-javelin (15.64 meters).

Ritenour also won gold, finishing first in the 800 meters (2.13.97). He won bronze medals in the 400 meters (58.24) and 1,500 meters (4:52.98).

Both competed for Team Indiana in the track meet, held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Both were selected for the six-man, six-woman squad based on their performances at the 2021 Indiana Special Olympics.

Ritenour was named captain of the Indiana team. Both are coached locally by Rob Allen. A group of coaches from across the state coached the Indiana team in Orlando.

More than 4,000 athletes from the United States and the Caribbean took part in the American Games.

Both Heller and Ritenour were part of the 2018 DeKalb County basketball team that won the championship in Seattle.

The track competition took place in unforgiving triple-digit temperatures in Florida.

“I was excited about it,” Ritenour said. “I liked the people we had in the team. They were good people. »

Special award ceremonies were held after each event to reward the best.

Special Olympians were treated to a special night out at the Animal Kingdom theme park, which closed early to the public, giving athletes room for themselves at no cost. They then received free passes to the Magic Kingdom at the end of the week’s competition.

Ritenour had practice for all three races in one morning. The last one was the 800, and he stopped with cramps and couldn’t finish.

The Indiana team requested to allow him to advance to the final and he clocked a personal best six seconds to win the gold medal.

“I was so happy, I was so excited,” he said.

Allen put him through his paces in a workout before making the trip, running him four 800s.

“I was dying,” Ritenour said. “My times were a bit better.”

His bronze medal in the 1,500m came from a kick in the final 200 meters where he caught and passed the third-place runner.

A 2008 DeKalb graduate, Heller has been with the Special Olympics for 12 years. She participates in all sports offered in DeKalb County, including basketball, bowling, track and field, flag football, soccer, and swimming.

In 2017, she was named Zone 3 Special Olympics Spirit Athlete of the Year, based on her participation in sports, exceptional sportsmanship, and consistently positive role model of the true spirit of Special. Olympics.

Heller’s father, Kevin Heller, died in January. He was one of her track coaches in 2021 and had hoped to be with her at the USA Games.

Ashlyn Heller wore a medallion containing some of her ashes as she competed in Orlando.

Ritenour was a 2020 Garrett graduate. He was co-captain and MVP of the Railroader cross country team as a senior.

Ritenour received the Special Olympics Indiana 50th Anniversary Mental Attitude Award in 2019. The award was presented to 10 athletes from the state who demonstrated exceptional sportsmanship with a can-do attitude to represent true spirit of Special Olympics.

Ritenour said he and his teammates are like family. He said he likes everyone to be accepted and everyone to be able to be who they are.

Romano and his father, Brent, were guest speakers at the 2019 NCAA Division III Championships.

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