The Cherokee word “gadugi” means working together to improve the tribal community. A government service of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Recreation works to strengthen “gadugi” through continuous recreational programs. Of those programs, Special Olympics Qualla Boundary is offered year-round to tribal citizens, who train and compete in bocce and bowling.
Led by Special Olympics Qualla Boundary Local Program Co-Coordinators Janell Rattler and Kamiyo Lanning, more than 40 registered athletes are active in Special Olympics programming through Cherokee Central Schools, area vocational services and the community. Elementary, middle and high school students with intellectual disabilities are eligible to attend a life skills course at Cherokee Central Schools, dedicated entirely to Special Olympics athletes. During class, students train in bocce and bowling.
As recreation manager for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Lanning’s role oversees the implementation of Special Olympics programming on the reservation.
“It’s providing a quality of life and more opportunities for our athletes,” said Lanning. “Going to state-level events has boosted their confidence. Out in the community, athletes will recognize us and ask when the next event is.”
In 2019, Lanning’s first year serving as a local Program co-coordinator, she attended the Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games, chaperoning two athletes. Recognizing the Cherokee Nation during the opening ceremony, the athletes proudly carried their tribal flag.
“It’s amazing,” said Lanning. “I love watching our athletes succeed. I love watching them go out and compete.”
Lanning and Rattler have spent the past three years working to expand the reach of their Program, with the goal of providing more sports offerings, including basketball, golf and soccer. Rallying community support for athletes, involvement in Special Olympics is becoming a reservation-wide initiative for the good of “gadugi.”