Special Olympics athlete Tatia Leyden excels as both athlete and mentor | Local

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Dressed head-to-toe in her favorite team’s bright red gear, Tatia Leyden was dressed as a St. Louis Cardinals superfan when she competed in a bowling event on Saturday and handed out candy to candy treats Sunday.

The 32-year-old is a veteran athlete on several Special Olympics teams in Colombia and has competed in bowling, volleyball, track and field, basketball and softball.






Tatia Leyden shows off at her Columbia home on Sunday some of her 160 Special Olympics medals she has won in the past 20 years. “I was most proud when my team won state softball in Jeff City,” said Leyden.



Leyden first became involved in the Special Olympics in 2001 after one of her teachers at Smithton Middle School told her about the city’s sports programs for people with disabilities.

“We had just moved here so we didn’t know anything about it,” said Joan Leyden, Tatia’s mother. “She tried the Special Olympics, it was track season then, and she loves it.”

Tatia, who has a learning disability, began individualized education programs and special education programs around age 5, Joan said.

Columbia Parks and Recreation participates in nine Special Olympic sports: water sports, basketball, pétanque, bowling, golf, softball, tennis, track and field and volleyball, according to the city site.

Individually, Tatia has won over 160 medals in her competitions. She also placed first in the state with her softball team this year.

“Hanging out with friends and meeting new friends” is the best part of being on the different teams, said Tatia.

Emma Barnes, Assistant Coordinator of Columbia Parks and Recreation, has grown closer to Tatia over the past three years.

“I always like to see her because she is one of the athletes who participates a lot,” said Barnes. “She’s always come out to help us as a staff, which is really, really nice because sometimes things get chaotic.”

Tatia is also known for consistently supporting her teammates in games and in training, added Barnes.

“In softball, in particular, she’s in the dugout and she’s always cheering on each of her teammates,” she said.

“It’s really cool to see her encouraging new players to play a sport,” Joan said. “There are kids who were new to basketball last year or softball, and she would walk up to them and tell them that they were doing a really good job even though they were discouraged.”

When not bowling or shooting a basket, Tatia works with the children at Bright Start Academy.

The preschool and daycare center offer childcare services to children aged six weeks to 12 years old, according to its website.

Tatia starts her day working with the toddlers, then travels to different classrooms throughout the day to help the teachers.

“When they go to different classes, I’ll be in the same room as them, and when they get nervous or something, they can come and see me,” she said.

Tatia has worked at Bright Start Academy for six years.

“She knows them so well and they just love her,” Joan said of the kids there and their relationship with Tatia. “It’s really cool to watch her grow as a leader and as a friend.”






Tatia Leyden grabs her bobblehead from Adam Wainwright

Tatia Leyden catches her Adam Wainwright bobblehead on Sunday at her home in Columbia. “This is my ultimate favorite,” said Leyden. “Because he (Wainright) is coming back. “








Bowlers prepare to start a game at Columbia's annual Adaptive Sports Bowling Halloween event

Bowlers prepare to start a game at Columbia’s annual Adaptive Sports Bowling event Saturday at AMF Town & Country Lanes in Columbia. Tatia Leyden has been a member of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Adapted Sports and Special Olympics program for 20 years.








Tatia Leyden watches her bowl roll in the alley during the Halloween bowling match

Tatia Leyden watches her bowl roll down the aisle during Saturday’s Halloween bowling match at AMF Town & Country Lanes in Colombia. Leyden has dressed up as a St. Louis Cardinals baseball player for the past six years because of her love for the team. “Tatia is awesome and definitely a super fan,” said Joan Leyden.








Tatia Leyden reacts to the score in the dying minutes of her bowling match

Tatia Leyden reacts to the score in the dying minutes of her bowling match on Saturday at AMF Town & Country Lanes in Colombia. Leyden says her favorite part of bowling is spending time with close friends.








Jannel Ronneburg, left, waits for a ball as Tatia Leyden throws her bowling ball

Jannel Ronneburg, left, waits for a ball as Tatia Leyden throws her bowling ball into the lane on Saturday at AMF Town & Country Lanes in Colombia. The Halloween event was hosted for members of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Adapted Sports and Special Olympics program.




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