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Special Olympics Chicago gets creative to provide pandemic-friendly programming

First-time archers let their arrows fly Friday at a park in Bridgeport. Other activities have included fishing and miniature golf.

Lucy Walsh participates in an archery event hosted by Special Olympics Chicago and the Chicago Park District.
Lucy Walsh participates in an archery event hosted by Special Olympics Chicago and the Chicago Park District.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After sinking an arrow into the bullseye of an archery target, Lucy Walsh looked around.

“I didn’t know I could do that,” said Walsh, 22, one of dozens of Special Olympics Chicago athletes who participated in an archery activity Friday at Palmisano Park in Bridgeport.

It’s one of a handful of regular outdoor activities created this summer to help fill the void after the pandemic threw a wrench into sports normally offered at 25 Chicago Park District parks that host Special Olympics Chicago programs.

Her next arrow sailed high of the target, landing in a patch of grass. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed.

“She’s a ham,” said her father, John Walsh, of Little Italy, who momentarily lifted his face mask up to speak.

“Dad you look like a dork with that mask over your nose,” she said.

“I am a dork,” he responded, a smile on his face — happy to see his daughter happy.

Other pandemic-friendly activities being offered through Special Olympics Chicago and the Chicago Park District’s “Family Experience Days” include miniature golf, time at the driving range and fishing.

“It allows athletes to get out of the house and enjoy an activity they can do with their parents since we can’t be as hands-on due to social distancing,” said Blair Ade, senior program event coordinator for Special Olympics Chicago.

“Their socialization is their life,” Mary Anne Fallon said as she watched her son, Connor, 25, shoot arrows. “This gives them a chance to interact,” she said, saying the camaraderie was more important than the sports.

Brent Harmon, a volunteer instructor from the North Side Archery Club, said participants have been excited to learn and shown a real sense of accomplishment after getting the hang of it.

“There’s a real shine in their eyes,” Harmon said.

A group of novice archers from Envision Unlimited, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that offers community living and other programming, were ready for the challenge.

“We watched a YouTube instructional video yesterday, so everyone is pretty excited to be here,” said Mike Gordon, Envision’s athletic director.

A 60-year-old participant from Envision whose first name is Celestine was a little nervous.

“It’s my first time. Once I get to relaxing, it will be alright,” she said.