Hillsboro athlete Cadie Lange is no stranger to track & field competitions, but she's never competed in the U.S. Special Olympics — until now.
This week, she's representing Oregon in the 2022 U.S.A. Special Olympic Games in Orlando, Florida. The accomplishment caps more than 10 years of hard work and training.
I've been training for about six months (for the Games) … but I've been in track since I was 12 years old," Lange said. "I'm really dedicated to track. It's the only sport I like doing."
The Special Olympics is open to any athlete with an intellectual disability, like Lange has. While her developmental condition makes training for a high-profile national competition more difficult, Lange and her coaches have specialized training that prepares her.
Coach Cindy Miguel said that when training Special Olympic athletes, she breaks down her instruction a bit more than if she was training her high school track team. A task like handing off a baton can be difficult for any athlete while moving at fast speeds, but the number of fine motor skills involved can be especially difficult for athletes with a disability.
They break the training down into smaller chunks and have athletes focus on really paying attention to their teammate's body and hand positioning in order to make a clean handoff come race time. Miguel says baton training was made easier because everyone on Team Oregon's relay team is right-handed.
"No, I'm left-handed," Lange chimed in with a chuckle.
That was news to Miguel, but Lange is such a pro that she has easily adapted to using her right hand to accommodate her teammates.
Miguel said that people often have misconceptions about people with disabilities and athletes who compete in the Special Olympics.
"What I think a lot of people think about when they think about people with intellectual disabilities is that they think of people with Down syndrome or with cerebral palsy — people with visible disabilities," she said. "But I think the majority of athletes with intellectual disabilities look like people without disabilities. Cadie falls into that category."
The Special Olympics also doesn't work like other Olympic Games, where only the top athletes compete for spots on Team USA. Instead, athletes who have competed in prior USA Games have less of a chance of being selected this year, so as to give others a chance to experience the events.
Miguel said that while athletes have to compete in state and regional competitions to get into the selection pool for the national games, athletes who have competed at previous Special Olympics may have their name in the draw only once. Athletes like Lange, who have been waiting their turn for years, might have their name in the hopper multiple times.
But the selection committee also takes into consideration whether an athlete would have a positive experience at the Games. It isn't just the physical training that's important.
Special Olympics athletes must be able to handle lots of excitement and social interaction, which can be overwhelming to the uninitiated.
Lange is a seasoned veteran in this regard, and she's using her expertise to help others on Team Oregon, who come from all over the state.
"Special Olympics just changed my life," Lange said. "It helps me make new friends and bring out more of my confidence."
She and Miguel both referenced fellow Team Oregon competitor Howard Day, from Klamath County, who has never competed in a big competition like this before. Lange has taken him under her wing and supported him.
"He was very nervous, and he's all the way from Klamath Falls," Miguel said. "Cadie introduced herself and helped him feel comfortable and kind of showed him how to be a friend … letting him know that he's part of the team."
Lange competed this week in the "athletics" category, which is the Special Olympics designation for track and field events. She ran in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter race and a team 4x100 relay.
Win or lose, Lange and her trainers say that competing is a major accomplishment. Her oldest coach is her father, Mike Lange, who says he's proud of his daughter's hard work and commitment.
"It's a pretty big deal — it's once-in-a-lifetime," he said. "I don't know that you can express how big of a deal it is to these kids and even the parents. … Winning is great, but the experience is worth way more than that I think."
Coach Miguel said that one of the things that's been most impressive to see is how Lange has grown into a leader for Team Oregon.
"She's being a leader and using Special Olympics and sports as a platform for way greater life lessons than just the athletics and just crossing the finish line," Miguel said. "It's about how to be a friend and how to be a leader and communicate with people, so that they really understand what you're trying to say."
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