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Shaylene Stephens wasn’t looking forward to getting up to catch an early flight to Newark, N.J. But she could hardly wait to get there and get going for her national bowling competition.
Stephens, the top local Special Olympian, was selected to represent New Mexico at nationals this week.
She was one of four athletes invited to take part in the bowling competition, which gets going Monday morning in New Jersey.
She will be competing in singles, doubles and team bowling this week, along with a pair of athletes from Las Cruces and another from Albuquerque.
Along with bowling, Stephens competes in several other sports, including basketball, soccer and swimming.
Stephens said heading to nationals was a pretty big deal for her.
“It’s getting to see a different part of the county, getting to see some friends that might be there that I met when I went in 2007 to the World Games,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get to see some old coaches and stuff.”
Stephens got to go to the World Games in Beijing, China, just months before the Olympic Games were held there in 2008 and said she was amazed by the Olympic Village there — the Beijing Games are considered some of the most successful Olympics ever held.
Stephens has been preparing for her competition for several months. She was picked for Team New Mexico just prior to her appearance in the state Special Olympics basketball tournament, in which the team from Los Alamos finished in second place.
While she was at that tournament, held in Las Cruces, she got to work out with her full team, something that’s been otherwise difficult to do because of the distance separating the athletes.
Special Olympics is a big deal for Stephens and those who work with her said she’s as committed an athlete as any in New Mexico.
“Shaylene’s life revolves around Special Olympics,” said Art Montoya, her basketball coach. “Shaylene’s a good athlete and she works hard in the sports she competes in.”
Along with competition, Stephens also sits on the Special Olympics New Mexico board of directors as the athletes’ representatives.
To prepare for the competition, Stephens has been practicing at the area bowling alleys.
Her biggest challenge to prep for nationals was finding a good ball. She started off with an 8-pound alley ball, but said that one simply wasn’t getting the job done for her.
“I finally got my own ball,” Stephens said. “It was challenging. I’ve been bowling for 11 years and I’ve been using an 8-pound ball and I didn’t know it was too light.”
She went up to a 10-pound ball and said she’s seen her practice game scores go up considerably since getting the feel of her new ball.
Before switching, she was struggling to break into triple digits. But two weeks ago she played a series of 11 games and broke 100 in 10 of those, including putting up a new personal best score of 127.
Despite putting in all the work ahead of heading to New Jersey, she said still had some butterflies.
“I haven’t competed on a national stage for bowling yet,” Stephens said. “At practice, I’m getting better. I know how to aim. If you take your time, you do better.”
Along with the competition, the athletes at the national games get the star treatment. A miniature Boardwalk has been constructed for the athletes to provide a carnival-like atmosphere, and while they’re in the area, they also get to go on a dinner cruise around New York City.