Special Olympics Montana athletes earn world, local honors

2012-05-14T08:00:00Z 2012-05-15T16:31:26Z Special Olympics Montana athletes earn world, local honorsBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Even though he'd already won gold and silver medals in the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games, Anton Veverka wasn't quite ready to predict victory as he prepared to leave for the 2011 games in Greece to compete in the pentathlon.

"Maybe I'll win again," he said with a sly grin the day before leaving. "I don't know."

The 29-year-old Richey native probably would've been safe to cross that bridge and make a bold prediction, as a trio of Special Olympics Montana athletes who competed in Greece brought home medals.

Veverka won the silver medal in his division while swimmer Zach Smith, of Billings, placed third in the 50-meter breaststroke and Measha Porter, of Stevensville, brought home silver and bronze medals in the softball throw and 100-meter walk.

"This is as good as it gets," said Nolan Taylor, SOMT's training and competition coordinator. "We're sending our athletes to the World Games and they're competition for Team USA. How many people ever get to do something like that?"

Smith was also a member of a 4x100 freestyle relay team that won the event but was later disqualified for an exchange violation.

While those three were overseas doing Montana proud, a Billings Special Olympics athlete was back home bringing in another award.

Merle "Buzz" Toliver, a power lifter, was named Special Olympics Montana's Athlete of the Year in the fall, as much for his strength of character as for his physical accomplishments

"If I hit a wall, I just keep pushing myself and pushing myself to push it, and one of these days I'll get it," he said in a December interview with The Billings Gazette.

Toliver won the power lifting competition at the 2011 Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games in Bozeman with a dead lift of 419 pounds. He also won a gold medal with the Billings Adult Soccer team at the 2010 USA National Games, acts as a Global Messenger for SOMT and works at NAPA Auto Parts.

This year, he'll get the honor of using the Flame of Hope to light the cauldron at the state summer games, held in Billings on May 15-18, which officially kicks off the games.

Taylor said SOMT is already gearing up for the 2013 world games, to be held in South Korea and that a pair of Montana athletes will likely compete there.

Regardless of how many go, the process and experience of preparing athletes for the world games is one that's worth the effort and gives them a chance to show off what Montana brings to the table, he said.

"We always take advantage of these opportunities," Taylor said. "We certainly jump on that to offer not only more training opportunities for the athletes but also provide them with that experience. There's really no higher honor than to put on that red, white and blue and compete for Team USA."

 

 

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