From the Tokyo Paralympics to the PV Special Olympics: How athletes adapt


David Weaver

PV athlete Ben Babcock places 5th in the 50 meter dash at the 2019 Special Olympics state track meet.

Alyssa Smith, Social Media Manager

Fairfield, Iowa, to Tokyo, Japan, is quite the trek, but Matt Stutzman made the journey to compete in the 2020 Paralympics. The “armless archer” from Iowa has competed at three Paralympics and has no intention of stopping. 

Stutzman resides in Fairfield, Iowa, with his three sons. Although he was born with no arms, he has yet to let it get in the way of his aspirations. He became an avid hunter after learning to shoot a bow and arrow with his foot and chin. After competing in the 2012 London Paralympics and obtaining a silver medal, Stutzman was hungry for more as he competed in Tokyo. 

Stutzman is not the only Iowan finding success at Olympic games and breaking down barriers. Here in Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley students are gearing up to compete in the Special Olympics. This season starts with bowling and the athletes are practicing for their local competition in Oct. Just like Stutzman, these PV athletes are learning how to adapt and find success in their own special ways. 

The Paralympics and Special Olympics both provide an opportunity to athletes that have adapted in amazing ways to compete and find success. At Pleasant Valley, the program is led by special education teachers David Weaver and Ellen Jacobs. The athletes compete in events like bowling, track and field and, this year, maybe even basketball. 

Weaver and Jacobs share a passion for coaching these athletes and bringing them joy. 

Weaver has been coaching at PV for five years, and although this is Jacobs first year as a co-coach, she is no stranger to the Special Olympics, as she has helped coach at other local schools.

The Special Olympics and Paralympics share the common goal of inclusion and celebrating all kinds of athletes. Unfortunately, they also get very little recognition. 

Compared to all of the other athletic teams at PV, few people know about the Special Olympics. Jacobs wishes more people knew the Special Olympics existed. “These kids deserve just the amount of respect and support like the other athletes get here,” she said.

Like Stutzman, PV Special Olympic athletes learn different ways to compete compared to their peers. “A lot of our students have never done these sports before so they have to overcome a lot of physical barriers we have to modify a lot,” said Jacobs. 

While athletes like Stutzman are having victories at the Paralympic level, the Special Olympics is helping all kinds of athletes succeed at the high school level. Weaver recalls some of his favorite victoires from his years of coaching, “One of my favorites was an athlete who started bowling in Special Olympics and then bowled for the High School team,” He stated. 

Sharing success stories like those of Stutzman and PV’s athletes are an important part of spreading the word about the Paralympics and Special Olympics. The inclusive environment and opportunities these programs create is something that many believe are important to recognize.