Huck Training for Life

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JEFFERSON CITY - A one-of-a-kind facility is starting to take shape in Jefferson City. At the junction of US Highway 54 and MO Highway 179, the walls of the Special Olympics’ new Training for Life Campus are currently being built.

The facility will be nearly 34,000 sq. ft. and house training centers for 21 different sports.

Gary Wilbers, capital campaign chair for Training for Life, said the facility is more than four years in the making.

“We’ve spent about four and a half years raising funds for this,” Wilbers said. “To see it actually being built is so satisfying for both me and the athletes.”

Wilbers said Special Olympics has raised approximately 94 percent of the total cost to build the campus.

“Right now, we have about $1.4 million left to fundraise,” Wilbers said.

Special Olympics recently received a $700,000 Challenge Grant that started Oct. 10 and runs through Dec. 15. Whatever funds Special Olympics can raise in that period of time, Centene Charitable Foundation will match up to $700,000.

“With their donation we will be able to reach our goal, and we are positive we will be able to raise that money,” Wibers said.

Special Olympics is planning to contact previous donors and reach new donors to reach its fundraising goal.

After touring other facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey, Missouri’s Special Olympics created its own one of a kind facility.

“They had two of the three components we liked,” Wilbers said. “They had the training aspect. It will be modeled after an Olympic training facility but what makes us unique is that we will have a Healthy Athlete Initiative. So, when our athlete’s come in, they can get health screenings right here. The third component is athlete leadership. When they come in, they get leadership training and can go back in their community and use them.”

There are over 15,000 Special Olympics athletes in Missouri. Wilbers said 52 percent of those athletes are part of the workforce.

“By participating in a sport, they make a difference in their community,” Wilbers said.

 Currently, Special Olympics athletes train in either school or church gymnasiums.

“If there’s some other event booked at the gym, we get booted out,” Wilbers said. “Having this specific facility will ensure athletes always have a place to practice.”

Wilbers said building the facility in Jefferson City was a smart decision because it provides a central location within the state.

“We have athletes coming in from all over,” Wilbers said. “They’re traveling from Kansas City, Springfield, everywhere. It’s nice to have this right here in the middle of the state so no one has to travel too far to get here.”

Jefferson City officials are also glad to have the Training for Life campus located close by. Diane Gillespie, executive director of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she estimates the facility will bring between $225,000 and $378,000 in tourism and camps.

“Anything like this coming to a community is definitely a positive,” Gillespie said. “It brings visitors into our city and those are the ones that will stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, shop and have an economic impact on our community.”

In addition to tourism, Wilbers said the Training for Life facility is estimated to create 30 permanent jobs in Jefferson City.

“Right now, we offer one statewide camp. When this is done, we can offer 30 statewide camps just the first year,” Wilbers said.

Gillespie said the emphasis of the building is community.

“All the partners, the whole community really, came out to the presentation and that gave SOMO the sign that the community was behind this group and really wanted this to come to Jefferson City,” Gillespie said.

Wilbers agrees. He said he’s excited to see the community’s reaction to the completed facility.

“This is truly a statewide facility,” Wilbers said. “Of course, I’m excited for Jefferson City. I grew up here. But it will also impact the greater state. I have one athlete who I always said to him I can’t wait to see his face when it’s complete and he sent me a text that said, ‘No Gary, I can’t wait to see YOUR face when it’s finished.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

The facility is expected to be completed fall of 2018.