Special Olympics Missouri cuts ribbon to new training campus

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JEFFERSON CITY - Cheering and applause filled the air as Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) athletes, volunteers and directors cut the ribbon outside the first-of-its-kind Training for Life campus.

The $18.5 million, 32 thousand-square-foot facility sits on nearly 17 acres in SOMO's headquarter city. It will offer year-round sports training, leadership opportunities, and health and wellness for athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff members. 

"There was a vision back in 2006, that created a foundation," Gary Wilbers, Capital Campaign Chair for SOMO, said. "And there was some discussion very early on at that time that we need to have a facility where our athletes can train." 

With plans to serve more than 122 thousand individuals in the state that qualify for SOMO programs, ground for the project was broken in May 2017. Nearly a year and a half later, it is finally complete.

"It really sets for us, across the world, what we're doing," Wilbers said. "Because we're not just training in the facility, we're also going to have health athletes training. So when [athletes] go back in their community, they make a difference." 

SOMO serves nearly 15 thousand individuals with intellectual disabilities. Athletes can compete in different sports in the 282 yearly community-based trainings and competitions. However, this foundational facility brought more than just a place to train for athletes. 

"They finally brought something here that we can call home," Allen Cameron, athlete of over 30 years, said.

Cameron said he is most excited to compete on the new facility's fields. The campus is surrounded by outdoor fields and courts, while indoor sports arenas, multimedia conference rooms, administrative office space, areas for free health screenings, and a fitness center can be found inside the facility.

As far as the future of the facility, Wilbers says his goal is to grow the program in order to affect more communities and help athletes. 

"I honestly think I probably would never have had a life anymore if I didn't have Special Olympics," Cameron said.