Thunder in the Valley Games Begin Thursday

June 15, 2009, 1:06 p.m. (ET)

SAGINAW, Mich.--A storm of paralympic athletes will descend upon the valley for the second Thunder in the Valley games Thursday, June 18 through Sunday, June 21, at Saginaw Valley State University.

"These athletes are the equivalent of professional athletes who get paid, but these guys don't," said Jeff T. Coupie, program director of Michigan Sports Unlimited, a Saginaw-based adaptive athlete organization. "Many competed in the Beijing Paralympic games last year."

Paralympic swimmer and American record holder Cheryl Angelelli was one of those competitors. She's the keynote speaker for the opening ceremony that starts at 6 p.m. Friday in SVSU's outdoor athletic complex tent.

The 40-year-old Detroit native won a pair of silver medals for the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle races in Beijing. She also swam in the 2000 Paralympics in Sidney and the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, where she won two bronze medals.

Coupie, 38, of Bay City said the sanctioned event draws athletes with physical disabilities from all over the U.S. to compete in air rifle, archery, handcycling, track and field, power lifting and swimming.

A 5-kilometer race takes place Friday at the track, and a 10-kilometer race will close portions of Davis and Pierce from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. while the race is in progress.

Last year's event drew 58 registered competitors.
"We've signed up over 50 at this time, more than we had at the same time last year," Coupie said, "but we expect more to register at the last minute."

Registration continues from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, with classification clinics from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days in the Ryder Center. Continental breakfast will start at 8 a.m.

Physical therapists will perform manual muscle testing on each athlete to place them in classes for competition according to the complexity of their disability. The paralympic academy has scheduled clinics for each event for newcomers looking to compete or to gain knowledge, Coupie said.

Competitors must sign up for a $35 membership with Wheelchair Sports USA, the sanctioning organization of the event. A $30 registration fee will cover all the competitive events. The opening ceremony costs $10 and includes a rib and barbecue chicken dinner.

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