When Chris Halverson prepared for the state Special Olympics games this week, he had some exceptional encouragement and trainers.
Halverson, 28, has been volunteering at the school-aged childcare program at Kessler Elementary School for the last two years. So, when it came time for him to go to state competition, the kids sent him off proudly with a cheering ovation and personalized banner.
He had one last practice with the kids this week before departing for the summer games in Bozeman where he will join about 1,000 other athletes. It was part training and part pep rally.
“Chris will, Chris will rock you,” they cheered, mimicking Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
Halverson — or as the kids call him, “Mr. Chris,” showed off a handful of medals he has won at previous Special Olympics events. He has about 30 or so of them from competing since he was in grade school.
The children made their own medals as well.
Colton Doto, 5, decided to give his medal to Halverson along with a hug.
“We’re best buddies,” Doto said.
Doto and the other children helped Halverson practice by racing him in a wheelchair. Halverson competed this week in wheelchair races and tennis-ball throwing events with the Helena Cats team.
“This is so much fun for him. He loves it,” beamed his mother, Kathy.
“I just love it because it gives these kids a chance to hang out with someone with disabilities and take that fear of the unknown away,” she added.
Brock Hill, 9, grabbed Halverson in a huge bear hug after racing him. The two met about three years ago at a Capital High School football game. Halverson almost never misses a game.
“He’s funny and he’s nice to everyone,” Hill said.
Karen Kanta, who has worked with Halverson since he was in the sixth grade, said he is amazing with the kids.
“It’s just been a win-win. It’s wonderful for the kids and Chris loves it,” she said.
Halverson said he was excited for the games and proud to take the kids’ banner with him.
“Thank you,” he yelled out to children while giving them an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or email@example.com