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Special Olympians Build and Launch Rockets at Challenger Learning Center

Rockets flew high at the Challenger Learning Center at Paducah (CLC) this past Friday when seventeen athletes from the West Kentucky Special Olympics became a team of rocket engineers.

On their first trip to the center, which was sponsored by the Murray State University Office of Regional Outreach, the Special Olympians were ecstatic to be astronauts flying a mission in the space station and engineers building their own rockets.

As we were building the rockets, I thought this is so neat, said David LeNeave, who has competed in the Special Olympics for the past 20 years. To me, as an athlete, it was fun and interesting to learn about space and rockets and Id like to come back here and do this again.

Randy Wiersma, local coordinator of the West Kentucky Special Olympics, said the interaction between the kids and the CLC staff was phenomenal. Im amazed. We werent sure if space was going to be a big deal to these kids, but when we got here, they were all so excited, said Wiersma.

With the help of the CLC staff, LeNeave and the other 16 Special Olympians, built their small yet powerful rockets, and after receiving the safety instructions from CLC Director Mellisa Duncan, the rocket team went outside and began the countdown to launch.

As Duncan hooked up the launch button box to the launch pad, participants waited in anticipation for their turn to push their button that launched their rocket high into the air. As each rocket blasted off, everyone clapped and shouted with excitement.

Before Richie Dittsworth got ready to launch his rocket, he stopped to sing the national anthem quieting the crowd. I was in tears as Richie sang, said Duncan. It was another special moment of the day a day that is the highlight of my career at the center.

MSU Executive Director Office of Regional Outreach Gina Winchester said the goal of her office is to support events that are regional and educational in nature and are new and innovative. This collaboration between MSU and the Challenger Learning Center was the perfect fit. The next event with the Murray-Calloway Special Olympians is already being planned for this fall.

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