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home : sports & recreation : sports & recreation September 23, 2017

8/8/2017 11:29:00 AM
Sisters resident competes in Special Olympics
Lizzie Affonso of Sisters participated in the Special Olympics in golf. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Lizzie Affonso of Sisters participated in the Special Olympics in golf. photo provided

By Erin Borla

Local resident Lizzie Affonso celebrated a great achievement last month by attending the Special Olympics State Games to play golf.

Lizzie, 33, living with Down syndrome, grew up in Stockton, California, and moved to Bend in 1995 with her mom, Sandy. In 2001, they both moved to Sisters where Lizzie graduated from Sisters High School in 2003. In the past she participated in the Special Olympics in bowling and basketball.

This year, Lizzie participated in the Skills Division of the golf program. It's an individual contest that focuses on the skills of putting, pitching and driving. Marilyn Rowland, her coach, has worked with the Special Olympics golf athletes in Central Oregon for the past 15 years.

"Lizzie has a natural aptitude for hitting the ball," Rowland says. "She hasn't had a chance to play on the full course yet."

The Special Olympics golf program offers four different categories, beginning with the skills competition. In addition, there is a 9-hole game; 9-hole partners game; and 18-hole game.

"There is no cookie-cutter to people with special needs," Rowland said. "We try and find their strengths and interest - what works for one individual is not going to work for another. Some have never swung a club before; all they've done is putt-putt. Some will like the skills and some will not. You try it out, just like a coat; if it doesn't fit you move on to another sport."

Those athletes that play either the 9-hole or 18-hole course are under the same rules as the PGA of America - except they don't get a caddy.

"They have to walk the whole course," said Rowland. "They work harder than the PGA athletes because they are hauling their own clubs on a cart. It's really fun and very rewarding."

The Central Oregon team practices at Awbrey Glen beginning in April. The athletes meet at the course once a week and go through a "testing" program to see what their skills are. Once they have assessed the athletes' skill level they begin practices. The 16-player team this year was able to play once at six different courses throughout Central Oregon prior to attending the Regional Games at River's Ridge Golf Course in Eugene.

Any athlete who receives a gold medal at the Regional Games automatically qualifies for the state event. Eight participants from Central Oregon attended the state games held at Trysting Tree Golf Course in Corvallis.

"The best thing for me at this time in her life is to build relationships," said Lizzie's mom. "Relationships with peers are key. It's (the Special Olympics) all supportive; they all root for each other."

Lizzie lights up when talking about her participation in the State Games. She didn't get there on her own. She and her mother are quick to mention the generous help from Howie Pruitt, the golf pro at Aspen Lakes Golf Course here in Sisters. Pruitt helped Lizzie prepare and gave her her very own golf shirt, skort, and hat to wear.

She proudly displays her medal and ribbon from the Regional Games and shows pictures of the state event.

Lizzie lives at A Home to Share, a non-profit group home for people with developmental disabilities, in Sisters. Her favorite sports are basketball, baseball, tennis and football and she loves the Oregon State University Beavers.

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