As Seattle Sounders FC soccer players watched, 3-year-old Vallory Hurlimann first booted a soccer ball with gusto and then ran up the field as fast as her little legs would go.
Lisa Hurlimann kept a close eye on her daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, and rooted her on the whole way during last Sunday’s afternoon of celebration for young athletes with disabilities at Arena Sports in Redmond.
For three hours, Kindering — a Bellevue-based nonprofit helping infants and children with special needs — Special Olympics Washington and Starbucks formed a hat trick of organizations that brought families together on the athletic field to play and visit with each other.
There were plenty of laughs, high-fives and tears from all involved.
“It’s my daughter’s first time participating in a Special Olympics event, and I think so far that it is awesome,” Lisa Hurlimann said about half-way through the event. “I just feel like Vallory’s got a great future. She’s totally having fun, she’s showing off her little natural talent to kick a soccer ball around.”
Vallory is a Kindering graduate along with Frannie Ronan, 3, who entertained herself, family members and friends at the other end of the field by waving green and orange flags while jumping and running around.
Frannie, who also has Down’s syndrome, was accompanied at the event by her grandparents and mom and dad, Mike Ronan, who works at Starbucks and is on the Special Olympics Washington board of directors. Mike’s goal of putting on a kid-friendly sporting event came to fruition Sunday.
“With the parents, they’re so grateful to have a place to take their kids, and (have) a support system, a sense of community where they can go talk with other parents and have a great time with their whole family,” said Elise Nelson, Kindering development coordinator.
Added Beth Wojick, CEO of Special Olympics Washington: “This is our farm team. It’s a lot like baseball, right? — we’ve got to have a farm team. These are up-and-coming future athletes and it’s really important that we build the bridge from when they’re really young.”
Older athletes on hand on Sunday were Sounders FC’s Andrew Duran, Roger Levesque, Bryan Meredith and Zach Scott. Levesque, who recently retired and received a Golden Scarf prior to the Sounders’ 3-0 win over rival Portland, kicked some balls around before the event and was joined by the others later.
“Coming out here and seeing the kids participate and the families participate and how much fun they were having — it was really something special,” he said.
Levesque and the other Sounders were in the spotlight when they placed medals around the kids’ necks during the closing ceremonies.
“You just see the faces of the kids lighting up, getting their medal and that pretty much says it all right there,” he said.
Added Scott: “It was fantastic. Those kids were very excited — a lot of them are adding medals to the trophy case, so that’s great.”
Andy Nystrom is editor of the Redmond Reporter. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.