For as far back as she can remember, Karen Langfeldt has followed the Special Olympics' credo: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Often, she has done both.
While competing in the shot put for a special-needs sports club in Wisconsin, she outthrew her teammates with such consistency that her coaches asked her to try a new sport, for the sake of competition.
"I'd beat half the team, so they didn't let me throw [anymore]," she said proudly.
But Langfeldt said she felt at home when she joined the St. Croix Valley Lumberjacks, a local club for children and young adults with special needs. Now in its 14th year, the Stillwater team competes year-round in a variety of sports — from flag football and bowling in the fall to track and field in the spring.
This coming week, when the annual Special Olympics Summer Games come to town, Langfeldt and her teammates will compete against hundreds of athletes from around Minnesota.
"It's kind of nice to have things like this for people with disabilities," said Langfeldt, who will compete in the 100- and 400-meter walks and the shot put. "Besides just being part of the team, I felt bored just being [at home]."
This summer's Games will be held Thursday through Saturday, June 26-28, at Stillwater Area High School, 5701 Stillwater Blvd. in Oak Park Heights. They will feature competitions in track and field, gymnastics, tennis, volleyball and bocce ball, which will be making its debut at this year's Games, which moved to their current site two years ago from their longtime home at the University of Minnesota.
Velvet Peterson is one of more than 80 volunteers — from the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, the Stillwater Convention and Visitors Bureau and Stillwater Area Public Schools — who keep the team running smoothly.
Since April, the 131-person team has assembled at a park in Oak Park Heights every week for practices. One of the members is Peterson's son Jake, whose events are the shot put, 4-by-100-meter relay, 100-meter walk and 25-meter run. In addition to competing, he said he enjoys the camaraderie of being on a team.
While their ranks have thinned in recent years, the Lumberjacks have come a long way from their inaugural season in 2000, when they had 15 athletes and 10 coaches.
"I think it's really fun just being with the team and seeing other people," said Adrieana Hansen, who will compete in the 100-meter walk, 100-meter run, 4-by-100-meter relay and running long jump.
She looked over at Langfeldt, who added: "Plus, you get to meet people like yourselves."
For details on the Summer Games, see http://specialolympicsminnesota.org/. The club's website is at https://stcroixvalleylumberjacks-public.sharepoint.com.