Sue Hill and her daughter Jenny tied up nearly identical purple sneakers, fastened tan, broad-brimmed hats around their short brown hair and stepped onto the Oregon State University field early Saturday morning.
The mother-daughter duo from Salem has prepared for Jenny's Special Olympics games for the past 20 years, but this year, Sue is at the helm of the Marion County Bocce team as head coach at the Special Olympics Oregon Summer Games in Corvallis.
"It's been an inspiration watching her grow her confidence," Sue said.
Jenny has participated in the Special Olympics games for the past two decades in many sports including basketball, powerlifting, gymnastics, softball, bowling and now Bocce, which she's competed in for the past four years.
In 2003, the pair boarded a plane to Dublin, Ireland for the Special Olympics World Summer Games, where Jenny took home a gold medal and two bronze medals in gymnastics.
"I like competing but I don't care if I win," Jenny said. "I go out there with a good attitude and if I don’t come home with anything, it's all good."
Jenny has high-functioning autism and said she is grateful for all of the people she met through her competitions.
"I learn differently from others, but I catch on really easily, it just takes me a while to figure things out," Jenny said. "I've gained a lot of confidence through the Special Olympics."
On Saturday, Jenny and Sue joined more than 200 Bocce players from around the state including teams from Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lincoln, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Washington and Yamhill counties.
"I said put some muscle in it, I didn't say hit it into Lincoln County!" Sue joked as she watched Jenny and her teammates practice rolling Bocce balls down the turf field, whizzing past the white pallino.
Jenny and her team of roughly 18 athletes practiced every Saturday at North Salem High School for more than two months leading up to the games, but she said that practice didn't end on the high school field.
The pair, who live in a South Salem home with 8 acres to spare, have set up a Bocce field to practice and play for fun during the summertime.
"It can be a challenge at times because my daughter doesn’t always want to take correction from mom as a coach, but we get through that," Sue said with a laugh. "But I try to correct her equally as I do with the rest of the team."
After playing a couple practice games before her competition Saturday, Jenny plopped down on a blue lawn chair underneath the team tent, unzipped her pink Hello Kitty backpack, and pulled out a thick coloring book.
"I love coloring," Jenny said with a smile on her face that never quite disappears.
She colored in letters spelling the phrase, "Life is better with friends" with purple, blue and red markers.
Bethany Davis, 32, of Lyons, tossed a ziplock bag full of markers into Jenny's lap to provide more color variety, just an hour before Jenny's competition.
"I love playing Bocce with my best friend, Jenny," Davis said. "It makes me emotional because I love playing with her so much, and Sue is such a great coach."
Before hitting the field at competition time, Sue weaved through the team tent, waved a bottle of sunblock in the air and reminded athletes to protect themselves before going under the sun.
"You would be amazed at how you're inspired, how it fills your love cup, and how much you learn from your athletes," Sue said of coaching. "It's a great growing and learning opportunity with this group of people."
Sue snaked through dozens of simultaneous games to offer words of encouragement to her athletes. She waited for her athletes to leave the "kitchen," or active game field, before providing feedback for improvement, including her daughter.
"Wow Jenny, good one!" Sue said as Jenny's Bocce ball collided with the white pallino. "Bocce!"
Jenny won her first of two competitions by 12-8 on Saturday.
Bocce ball competitions will continue at Oregon State University in Corvallis on Sunday, July 9 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information on the Special Olympics Oregon, visit www.soor.org.
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