For the Northern Kentucky Tribune
Published: Feb. 10, 2015
By: RAE HODGE
FRANKFORT–Among the nearly 100 advocates gathered in the Capitol rotunda yesterday to support Kentucky’s Special Olympics were two Northern Kentuckians with a very special interest.
Gymnast Danielle Blakeney of Erlanger will be one of three competitors from Kentucky in the World Summer Games in Los Angeles this year.
Luke Rutterer, a Special Olympian from Ft. Mitchell, spoke at the event in support of House Bill 178 which would allow a check-off box on tax returns for donations to Special Olympics. Rutterer is the athlete representative to the Special Olympics Kentucky board.
Celebrating 45 years of Kentucky’s Special Olympics program, the crowd included Special Olympics athletes, their families and program colleagues and state legislators who support House Bill 178.
That measure is sponsored by Rep. Martha Jane King, R-Lewisburg, who called the bill “an easy, convenient opportunity to help support this incredible program and ensure Special Olympics can serve even more Kentuckians in their next 45 years.”
King was joined by Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who took the lectern briefly to add his support to the measure.
Such measures have passed in several other states and, according to Special Olympics Kentucky CEO Trish Mazzoni, have generated between $30,000 and $80,000 yearly for each state’s Special Olympics program.
“Special Olympics Kentucky doesn’t receive any state money but we serve 7,000 athletes in Kentucky,” said Mazzoni, “The tax form check off box that House Bill 178 would provide for our program would help provide vital resources that would help us reach even more athletes in Kentucky.”
2014 USA Olympic bobsledder Dallas Robinson also spoke at the event. Robinson, who auctioned off his speed suit to benefit the Special Olympics, said the Special Olympics events have always played a part in his journey as an athlete.
Robinson, a former EKU sprinter from Crestwood, competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia as a member of the U.S. bobsledding team.
“Special Olympics has always had a place in my heart. In my opinion it’s what sports is supposed to be about,” said Robinson. “When I was competing in Sochi I got a lot of inbox messages from people from Kentucky…and I got a handful from the Special Olympics. I had to figure out how I could help, how I could make a difference.”
Blakeney, a graduate of Boone County High School, will be representing Kentucky and competing as a gymnast in the World Summer Games in Los Angeles this year.
This year marks the first time the World Summer Games have been held in the United States since 1999. Blakeney will be travelling there with her several family members. Her mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, and grandmother will attend the event to cheer her on.
Blakeney said she’s nervous about the trip, but very excited to be there and have family support.
“It’s a great opportunity to be here,” Blakeney said in the midst of the crowd swirling in the rotunda.
Even if she doesn’t bring home the gold this year–her first competition outside of Kentucky– Blankeney said she’ll “Still be doing gymnastics. That’s not something I’m ready to give up yet.”
“Special Olympics has impacted my life both on and off the playing field. As a board member, I am the voice for my fellow athletes,” he said. “For me, being in Ft. Mitchell and being from Area 7, it’s pretty nice to just come down here and try to be a representative for my athletes to try and get this bill passed and hopefully get the voice out.”Luke Rutterer, a Special Olympian golfer from Ft. Mitchell, also spoke at the event. Rutterer serves as the athlete representative to the Special Olympics Kentucky Board and called on elected officials to get behind the measure.
After his speech, he was met with congratulations by his cousin, Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus member Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.
When asked whether it would be safe to assume the measure would find his support in the Senate, Schroder and Rutterer laughed.
“We’ll see. You know, I have to look at it,” he joked. “Luke’s been super involved with the Special Olympics, and we’re excited to have him down here in Frankfort. I’m proud of him for advocating for something that’s important.”