TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – When Justin Salisbury attended the Special Olympics this past Saturday, he didn’t quite know what to expect. He just knew that he was there to help.

Once on the field he was surprised by what he saw. Not only were the athletes giving their best effort, but Salisbury’s teammates – some he thought would never extend themselves in service to others – cheered the disabled athletes as they played flag football.

One quote that sticks in his mind is one by famous boxer Mohammed Ali, who recently passed away: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Salisbury, a football player at Canyon Ridge, said he saw the best of his teammates who volunteered to help at the Olympics.

"It's not about us," he said, "but about the athletes. This is their moment."

Photo by Andrew Weeks
Athletes, coaches, and volunteers make it onto the field at Canyon Ridge High School after the Torch Run on Friday.

For some who attended the event – the first for Twin Falls – seeing the athletes was as Special Olympics Idaho Executive Director Laurie La Follette said it would be: a life-changing experience.

La Follette has been the organization's executive director for more than 13 years, she said during the opening ceremonies Friday at the school, and the athletes continue to teach her new things. She shared with the athletes and audience members that she lost her husband of more than 20 years to Alzheimer’s.

“But the thing that gets me up in the morning is you guys, my athletes,” she said. “I love each and every one of you. You are my role models.”

Alyson Outen, spokeswoman for Chobani, was at the games coordinating the company’s team of volunteers. Not only was the yogurt company the presenting sponsor for the Idaho games, but sponsored the Special Olympics in New York.

On a personal level, Outen said she enjoyed seeing the innocence and excitement of the athletes.

“They have unbridled enthusiasm and a level of innocence and excitement that most of us seem to outgrow,” she said. “Here, everyone is a winner.”

Not only were the athletes inspiring to her, she said, but so were the volunteers.

Photo by Andrew Weeks
Miss Tri-Counties walks with the Priest River athletes during opening ceremonies on Friday.

Nancy Swain, a coach for the Twin Falls Tators team, said the athletes were an inspiration to her in many ways. They don’t take much stock in winning, but just enjoy being part of a team.

“I think working with all of these athletes is most rewarding,” she said. “I don’t care if they win or lose, and neither do they. They are just excited to be recognized.”

She said each athlete she’s worked with loves to practice – something they do for many months out of the year. Not only do athletes compete in the state’s Special Olympics, but in regional games.

This year won’t be the last time Twin Falls or its volunteers will see the athletes. They’ll return for games the next two years, La Follette said.

“We wanted to make a three-year commitment,” she said.

Salisbury, who is a sophomore, is excited about that. It means he’ll have the opportunity to again cheer and serve the athletes.

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