Local Special Olympics team member from the Walla Walla region, Craig Lockard, has qualified to compete at the national level for Special Olympics.
Craig Lockard, 35, will travel to Orlando, Florida to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA games in June.
This will be Lockard’s first time not only in Orlando, but also on a plane.
It will also be the first time an athlete from Walla Walla has qualified to compete in track and field events on the national stage.
The event will take place June 5-12 this summer and will be covered by ESPN. More than 5,500 athletes and coaches will be present from all 50 states and representatives from the Caribbean.
The games will require 20,000 people to host the event and are expected to attract over 125,000 spectators to watch numerous individual and team sports competitions.
It will include track and field events where Lockard will compete for Olympic medals, but also many other sports including basketball, swimming, weightlifting, bocce, bowling and more.
Lockard is captain of the local Special Olympics team and has been competing since 2007. He competes in the long jump, 100 meters and 200 meters, with the long jump being his favorite event.
He competed in many sports for the Special Olympics, including track and field, bowling, snowboarding, and leadership training, but the track and field events earned him national attention to be selected for the United States team.
Lockard has won more than 50 medals during his Special Olympics career, including numerous gold medals, which he hopes to continue while in Orlando.
“One of my favorite parts is being able to make new friends,” Lockard explained. “Also, being able to help my teammates on the pitch and be a team captain.”
As team captain, Lockard leads pre-workout stretches, helps manage equipment, and instructs and leads the team in every way possible.
Lockard appreciates the team spirit of Special Olympics and how it has allowed him to meet many new people over the years.
The Special Olympics team practices every Saturday morning at Martin Field, but Lockard has devoted much more time to personal athletic improvement.
Thanks to sponsorships from the St. Mary’s Foundation and the Walla Walla YMCA, Lockard was able to train with a personal trainer for six months to help him improve and prepare to compete at the national level.
In addition to being a top track and field athlete, Lockard is also employed at the Lillie Rice Center in Walla Walla, where he is a member of the landscaping team.
Lillie Rice Center, Inc. is a local non-profit organization dedicated to providing employment and support services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and helping to improve their quality of independence.
Lockard has been a dedicated employee of the center for 14 years.
Tracy Gaines, one of Lockard’s track and field coaches and Walla Walla Regional Director for Special Olympics, appreciates having him as a leader and captain of her team.
“He’s like the cool kid — super outgoing and super helpful,” Gaines said. “He always helps coaches, helps other athletes and does whatever is asked of him. We talked to him about leading by example and he really rose to the occasion.
Gaines, who has been involved with Special Olympics in various capacities since around 2014, would like people to know that the organization is a place of inclusion.
She has a child with an intellectual disability, which first sparked her interest in becoming more involved with Special Olympics years ago.
Having a space to play sports, meet new people and be included in something bigger has been a game-changer for his daughter and for Gaines.
“As a mother, I felt like there was nothing left for my child,” Gaines said. “It (Special Olympics) has given my daughter such a sense of independence and the feeling that there are other people like me – I’m not alone in the world.”
Gaines encourages parents of children with developmental disabilities to view Special Olympics as a place not only to be active and participate in sports, but also to be around others who are going through similar life experiences.
Similar to Gaines’ experience with local Special Olympics providing a place of inclusion for her daughter, Special Olympics USA Games hopes to provide that same platform for community and inclusion.
Their motto is “Shine As One” because their goal is to give everyone, regardless of their disability, the opportunity to compete and be part of something bigger than themselves.
Lockard is looking forward to being part of this Special Olympics community when he travels to Orlando in June, but competing in track and field events isn’t the only thing that excites him.
“Warm weather and go to Disney World!” Lockard said, when asked what else he looks forward to outside of the competition.
And above all, Lockard would like to thank his athletic coaches, Tracy Gaines, Jennifer Johnson and Brad Graham, for helping him get to where he is now and enabling him to compete in the sports he love.