Sammy Wester of Petaluma heads to Special Olympics USA


Last week’s cheers were really just a prelude for Sammy Wester.

As she walked across the stage under the oaks at Santa Rosa Junior College On May 24, as she is on her way to graduating from the school’s three-year program From college to career program, the dean of programs and services for students with disabilities, Kimberly Starke, told the gathered crowd about Wester’s next adventure.

“She’s heading to Orlando, Florida this summer to compete in track and field events in the Special Olympics,” she said. “Congratulations Samy.”

And there was applause.

There will be more where this came from. The Special Olympics USA Games open Sunday in Orlando, Florida, and Wester, representing all of Northern California, will be there.

Wester, 25, was part of the list of 18 athletes in the Special Olympics NorCal crew.

She will compete in the 100 and 200 meter sprints and the running long jump.

“I love competition,” she said.

Over the course of seven days, Wester, who graduated from Casa Grande High School in 2015, will face off against some of the best of the best.

Around 5,500 athletes and coaches are expected in front of 125,000 spectators during the week.

On top of that, Wester booked a ticket to Disney World.

But like all things done at a high level (and all things worth doing), it hasn’t been easy for Wester in recent years.

With the COVID interruptions, her commitment to school and her job at Oliver’s Market in Cotati, where she has been a utility clerk for the past year, staying focused on her running and training has been difficult.

Especially when athletes were forced to train on their own and classes were all done via Zoom.

“Disgusted, frustrated,” she said of online classes and training alone. “I like seeing my friends there. I’m stuck running home.

But these solo workouts can also be a kind of release.

“I start running somewhere, then I walk, calm down and run,” she said.

But she stuck with training and focused on the parts she really loves: the races.

From her home in Petaluma, she ticked off how she punched her ticket to Orlando: “Marin Games at Novato, picked two years in a row for NorCal State games at Davis. I stayed in the dorms, that was cool, and then I had to medal to get picked for Florida,” she said. “And I’m the only one in Sonoma County who has.”

She joins athletes from San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, among others.

One of Wester’s coaches, Judy Waller, a speech pathologist with the Sonoma County Office of Education, recalled during the statewide games at Davis 2019 when Wester was asked to carry the torch and running side-by-side with a representative from a law enforcement agency.

It was a ceremonial race, but Wester doesn’t do ceremonies. She is fast.

“Here’s a healthy young guy and she just passed him,” Waller recalled with a laugh. “Don’t underestimate the power of our athletes.”

Wester, who has always loved running, joined Casa’s track team as a rookie but decided to reprioritize after that, she said.

“I had to focus on schoolwork and homework,” she said.

She and her family therefore sought other outlets for her sporting dreams.

“She still wanted to compete and that’s when we found out about Special Olympics,” said Sammy’s father, Scott Wester.

Losing in-person workouts and in-person classes at school has been tough. Wester is a people person. It’s clear in his high-fives to his classmates at the graduation ceremony last week.

And that’s clear from the way she approaches the practices, Waller said.

“She saw how much the practice paid off and she really got into it,” she said. “She’s an incredible athlete, she’s very quick. She is very proud of what she does and her medals and she is very involved in the team part and likes to see everyone. I think that motivated her.

“She worked her ass off,” she said.

Last week, when Wester participated in his opening ceremony, his mortar board announced his next steps: Special Olympics, USA Games, Orlando 2022.

She affixed the image of a runner breaking the tape.

“I’m tied for at least two gold medals,” she said. “I would be fine with bronze, but I don’t want that.

“But bronze is better than ribbon.”

Spoken like a true competitor.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or [email protected] On Twitter @benefield.

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