BRITT | Amelia Cassels’ favorite part about bowling is “knocking down the pins.”
And she’s good at it.
On Saturday, Nov. 18, Cassels, 11, earned a gold medal in her division at the Special Olympics Iowa State Bowling Tournament in Des Moines after qualifying during the regional competition in Fort Dodge in October.
“She’s had to go through a lot,” said Jamey Cassels, Amelia’s mother. “She’s had major surgeries. She went to therapy for eight years every single week. She has fought hard, so it’s fun that she finally gets to do something fun and we get to take time to do that stuff instead of all the not fun stuff.”
Amelia, the oldest of Jamey and Jesse Cassels’ three daughters, was born with cerebral palsy.
“During my labor they said, ‘We think we should probably do a C-section because things aren’t quite right,’ and she had hemorrhaged. She didn’t have much blood left in her body, so they immediately started doing transfusions and she went down to Des Moines to stay in the (neonatal intensive care unit),” Jamey said. “They caught things very quickly, but because of the lack of blood flow, she had the damage to her brain.”
At that time, Jamey and Jesse were told their daughter would probably never walk, and if she did, she’d likely need to use crutches and braces.
But Amelia, now a fifth-grader at West Hancock, has a small brace on her leg and has “come a lot farther than they ever expected.”
“The things that normally come naturally, she’s had to fight very hard to do,” Jamey said.
Amelia has been participating in the Special Olympics Iowa, a decades’ old organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities, since she was 8 years old — about three years after Jamey inquired about its offerings.
When Amelia was 5 years old, Jamey contacted Special Olympics Iowa to learn more about the sports and programs offered, and she was told participants must be at least 8 to participate and belong to a delegation, which is something West Hancock doesn’t have. Jamey was directed to a mother who lives in Algona and started a delegation for her son, and she let Amelia join.
“We’ve been really fortunate in her schooling and even the community activities, the summer rec programs, they’ve all been very welcoming to have her participate as much as she can and will, but it’s just a whole different level so she can’t keep up with what they’re doing,” Jamey said. “With Special Olympics, it’s a more even playing field. There’s varied levels for Special Olympics, too, but it’s a great place where she can be competitive with people who have a lot of the same abilities that she does.”
Amelia started bowling three years ago and track and field two years ago, and she’s garnered a collection of awards and medals.
Saturday marked her first gold medal, however. Her first year bowling, she qualified for the state competition, but it was canceled due to a blizzard. Last year, she earned a bronze medal in her division, which are based on age, gender and score average.
“They find a way for athletes to compete no matter how they’re able to do it,” Jamey said, noting Amelia bowls with a wheelchair ramp but is able to pick up her ball, carry it to the ramp and push it down toward the pins.
As part of the sport, Amelia is required to practice bowling about 10 hours ahead of a competition, and she often goes to the bowling alleys in Britt and Forest City with her family.
Members of Amelia’s family, including her parents, sisters, grandparents and aunts and uncles, cheered her on while wearing “Team Amelia” shirts as she bowled during the state competition.
“You love the cheering, don’t ya?” Jamey asked Amelia. She nodded.
And when asked if she wanted to earn more gold medals through the Special Olympics, Amelia nodded again with a wide grin.