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Joe Gibson is ready to hit the road — and he’s not alone.

Joe and 30 other Special Olympics athletes sponsored by the Silver Bow Developmental Disabilities Council, along with their coaches and supporting staff, are headed to Great Falls for the state Special Olympics this week.

But Joe is taking a special new honor with him. As the Montana Special Olympics’ Southwestern Area Health Champion for 2018, Gibson, who competes in multiple Special Olympics events, will be an ambassador for the Special Olympics, speaking about how to use participation in the games as a springboard to a healthy lifestyle.

“Joe will be talking to groups and going around to different functions, talking about the benefits of eating right and exercising year round, not just before the games,” said Rhoda Powell, now in her third year of being the Developmental Disabilities Council’s Special Olympics head coach.

Todd Hoar, director of Butte-Silver Bow’s Developmental Disabilities Services, said the idea is to foster a lifelong healthy lifestyle. “Joe will be a great representative for Southwestern Montana,” he said.

Powell said there’s a health champion for each region. “They’ll be recognized as a group at the family dinner during the state games,” she said.

Powell has been involved with the Council and with Special Olympics for a decade.

Each year, she says, helping to prepare athletes for the games is inspiring – and a lot of work. “I don’t know if we’re going to be renewed or worn out,” she said with a laugh on Monday. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The group of 31 athletes is one of the largest the Council has ever taken to the state games.

“We’ve got a great group this year,” she said.

The athletes will be competing in a wide variety of events, including walking, running, swimming, bocce, cycling, softball throw, and javelin, Powell said.

The athletes team with partners without disabilities in bocce, she said, and with those partners, the athletes, and staff, some 51 people are Great Falls-bound from the Developmental Disabilities Council.

The Special Olympics provide a great opportunity for those with disabilities to compete, to cheer each other on, and to interact socially, Powell said.

About a dozen Butte Police helped carry the Flame of Hope from Three Forks to Butte. The torch will arrive in Great Falls for the game’s opening ceremony. It is the 50th anniversary of the national Special Olympics. Special Olympics Montana will celebrate their 50th Anniversary in 2020.

For Joe Gibson, son of Neil and Nancy Gibson of Butte, it’s always fun to go to the Special Olympics, but even more this year as the region’s Health Champion, he said.

This year, he’s competing personally in golf, cycling and as a member of the 4x100 relay team. He’s also been a snowboarder in the winter Special Olympics.

He’s looking forward to getting together with the other Health Champions. The group is scheduled to get together for the first time at the family dinner during the games in Great Falls.

“It’s really exciting,” he said.

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