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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Iron Rangers form Road Runners unified Special Olympics team

E.M. Schultz
Posted 11/20/19

REGIONAL – Each year, roughly 100 athletes from around the Iron Range gather to form the Road Runners Special Olympics in a variety of sporting events.

They keep themselves extremely busy with …

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Iron Rangers form Road Runners unified Special Olympics team


REGIONAL – Each year, roughly 100 athletes from around the Iron Range gather to form the Road Runners Special Olympics in a variety of sporting events.

They keep themselves extremely busy with basketball in the winter, track and field in the spring, softball in the summer, and bowling in the fall.

On top of weekly practices and attending regular area events, they also participate in state competitions for each sport, not to mention, the numerous fundraising events they hold throughout the year.

With everything they have going on, it’s easy to see that the team is made up of a dedicated group of athletes, coaches, and volunteers.

Along with the athletes who suffer from mental and/or physical disabilities, there are several athletes who do not. In fact, all of the sports in which the Road Runners participate are considered unified, which simply means a combination of athletes with and without disabilities participate. There has been a large push for this unification over the past several years as it allows for a more inclusive atmosphere where friendship and understanding can blossom between the athletes. Similar to the school system, Special Olympics tries to integrate those with special needs with those who don’t, to create a more normalized atmosphere rather than a segregated one.

The Road Runners are currently in the midst of their unified bowling season. Every Saturday, those from the team who are participating in this particular sport get together to practice at the Virginia Bowling Gardens. They’re gearing up for their state tournament, which will take place at the Incline Station in Duluth on Nov. 23 and 24. According to the team’s financial director, Leola Hey, anyone who competes at area meets is also allowed to participate in the state competition. This lack of qualifying scores for state competitions applies to all Special Olympics sports, but that doesn’t mean the athletes don’t have their work cut out for them before getting there.

“There is no qualifying score in order to go to state,” she says, “but they do use the scores from area events to figure out what level to place each athlete at.”

The athletes, as well as others involved with the team, must also work hard to raise the funds required to attend these competitions. There are transportation expenses, hotel costs, and gamesfees that must be paid. For the Road Runners, this means hosting a different fundraiser almost every month. This may sound like a lot, but there’s a very good reason for it.

“The goal is for the athletes to not have to pay,” says Hey. “We want as many people as possible to be able to participate, and we don’t want money to be the thing that stops them.”

Fortunately, the state competitions in which the Road Runners participate were recently moved from the Twin Cities to Duluth, which helps keep the cost down. That doesn’t mean it’s non-existent, of course, so the multitude of fundraisers is still very necessary, especially with such a large team. Sadly, the Holiday Bingo event they had set for December had to be cancelled, which means their next fundraiser will take place in February. They will be selling Little Caesar’s pizza kits.

According to Hey, the Road Runners try to get involved in community events and partner with area businesses as often as possible. They recently served refreshments at the Mesabi Community Band Concert, and they partner with the Masons every year selling pasties. They host a salad luncheon every March, a pasta dinner every April, and participate in the Polar Plunge every February. They also host pancake dinners, a burger bash at the Ely IGA, an ATV ride in the fall, and work in the Brat Barn at Super One. They’re constantly looking for new and unique fundraising ideas as well.

“It’s time-consuming but fun,” says Hey, who doesn’t seem to mind the busy schedule. “They’re a great bunch of people to work with. They truly live life to the fullest.”

The Road Runners team is one of two Special Olympics teams in the area, the other being Team Triumph out of Aurora, which consists of about five or six athletes. Up until last year, there was also the Mesabi Thunder team, which unfortunately ended up disbanding. The Road Runners were more than happy to welcome their past rivals as new teammates, though. Hey says they are always thrilled when they get more athletes, as well as volunteers. After all, without volunteers, the team wouldn’t be possible.

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering for the Road Runners Special Olympic team, you may go online to where you will need to fill out a form and complete a brief training. You may also get in touch with the team on their Facebook page or by contacting Head of Delegation Lynn Sundbomb at


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