A local trio ready for the Special Olympics USA Games


Dumbbells, dumbbells, a variety of machines, loud music, and the usual gym venues greet gym-goers at Heavy Metal Gym, but one can’t help but notice the bench press station surrounded by the owner of the gymnasium Eddie Steadman and high school volunteer Jessica Stringfellow on Tuesday nights.

Steadman gives instructions and Stringfellow spots the bar as the duo help three Special Olympics athletes get their reps on the bench press in preparation for the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Fla., June 5-12.

Weightlifters Devin McClard and Karly Pratchard, as well as stand-up paddleboarder Cody Calhoun, are no strangers to hard work in the gym.

“A lot of them have been competing for a long time,” assistant coach Jennifer Lawhon said. “They start in school and then it’s something they can continue to do as adults. We sometimes go to sports camps in the summer. We have different sports that they participate in throughout the year. year. It’s just not once a year.”

Calhoun even works on his craft of paddleboarding on the water during the winter in wetsuits, and the group spends several days at the gym a week.

“It’s fun and challenging,” Calhoun said.

The trio recently competed in the Special Olympics state meet in Searcy where Calhoun also competed in powerlifting because paddleboarding was not an option in the state event.

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“State was just last weekend,” Lawhon said. “It’s where all the counties in Arkansas come together to compete in Searcy.”

The Special Olympics Arkansas organization selects athletes from across the state to compete in the US Games at the national level.

Normally, Special Olympics Arkansas observes the performance of athletes during a sports camp.

“They just see the athletes at the different events and at sports camp,” Lawhon said. “What we haven’t been able to run a sports camp because of COVID the last few years. They just had to choose to watch them at their area events last year because they got picked last summer So they’ve been training all year.”

As part of this training, the Arkansas team meets once a month in Conway to train as a group in several different sports.

Special Olympics athletes can also compete in unified basketball, unified softball, basketball, bocce, bowling, swimming, unified football, track and field, tennis, and golf.

Calhoun, McClard, and Pratchard train twice a week at Heavy Metal Gym, and Steadman devotes some of his time to helping them improve.

“I think it’s just pure fun,” Steadman said. “It’s one of the simplest things in life we ​​can do, it’s super enjoyable and rewarding. We just love giving back and helping out. It’s more for us than anyone because it’s a good thing. We’re all here to help each other.”

During workouts at Heavy Metal Gym, athletes smile, laugh and have fun while trying to increase the amount of weight they can lift.

“That’s what’s rewarding, to see the fun that comes out of it,” Steadman said. “It doesn’t matter if they win or lose. When you go to the competition and watch them, they all encourage each other.”

Even with the chance to win medals, the friendships made as part of the Arkansas team stand out as one of the most important things for athletes.

“Hanging out with friends and my cousins ​​(that’s my favorite part),” McClard said.

The Heavy Metal Gym community supports athletes, and some gym-goers told the band how inspiring it was to see them.

Athletes have also learned new lifts since their debut at the gym.

“They had never squatted before,” Lawhon said. “The squat is new to weightlifting in Arkansas. (Steadman) helped us with the squat and then the deadlift. I know Devin and Karly improved their deadlift and bench weights so much.”

Hot Springs and surrounding areas are under the direction of a Special Olympics Regional Manager who organizes various events.

Area Special Olympics athletes recently competed in a powerlifting and track and field event at Lakeside.

Lawhon first became involved with Special Olympics as a mother, but quickly transitioned into a bigger role with Special Olympics Arkansas.

“My son Devin is one of the athletes, and I started with him,” she said. “I go to camps to get my coaching certificate so I can help him with weightlifting or whatever sport he wants to do. Weightlifting is his favorite. …I just started as a mother, I just took my son and then went to get my coaching certification.”

Both Calhoun and McClard have competed at national championships in the past, but this will be Pratchard’s first time competing at the national level.

“Just the experience (that’s what I’m looking forward to),” Pratchard said. “It’s my first time going to Nationals, so I have the experience of going to Disney and competing and meeting people from all over the United States and the Caribbean.”

Lawhon described the national experience as amazing with every state in the country competing in one place.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “Overwhelming good. As a mother, when we went to Seattle, I was just – all the emotions. Just seeing all the athletes and how hard they work. They cheer each other on. face off. they always support each other and they make friends for life.”

Lawhon outlined what it means to her as a mother and coach that these Hot Springs athletes have done so well in their athletic endeavors and what it means to them to go to the Special Olympics USA Games.

“We have athletes with different disabilities coming together,” she said. “They compete like everyone else.

“It’s amazing. I mean, I have no words. Their dedication and the heart they have to get the medal and just like their motto is, ‘Let me be brave in this attempt.’ Let me win. If I can’t, let me be brave in the attempt.

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