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'It feels like home': Special Olympic athletes overjoyed to be a part of the world's largest facility in Grand Rapids

"It's not just about physical and intellectual disabilities, it's about everybody coming together as one. We are united as one," said Tyler Lawton.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A big announcement came Thursday from Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI)

The organization has launched the "Building Tomorrow's Champions" campaign, a fundraising effort in support of establishing the world's largest Special Olympics facility: The Special Olympics Michigan Unified Sports and Inclusion Center in Grand Rapids.

13 ON YOUR SIDE spoke to local athletes about the announcement, and their big smiles and excitement say it all.

"When we come in here it feels like home," said Tyler Lawton, local athlete and Co-President of the Athlete Leadership Council. 

"It feels like everybody likes us, and everybody cares," he added. 

Max Erhardt is also a Special Olympics Michigan athlete. He said he loves the facility and can't wait to see what the renovations bring. 

"I could I would live here for the rest of my life," Erhardt said with a giggle and a smile on his face. 

"It's just an awesome place that feels the most at home," added local athlete CJ VanSkiver. 

With this new campaign and subsequent progress to the building, the facility in Grand Rapids will become the largest Special Olympics facility in the entire world. 

"I think it's finally a place where everyone can feel like a piece and at home," said CJ VanSkiver. 

"Everyone belongs here, special needs or not," she added. 

These athletes said they are inspired by the "Building Tomorrow's Champions" campaign, and can't wait to see how the space grows even more. 

"It feels amazing knowing we can come here to train, practice, play games, relax and enjoy the sport," said Max Erhardt. 

The updated campus and building will also provide new facilities for local athletes and their families beyond the field or basketball court. 

"There will be healthcare, cooking classes, career development, life skills, and volunteer opportunities," said CJ VanSkiver. 

"It's a lot more than just sports," she said. 

Tyler Lawton said he knows how much this means to all of the athletes, because everyone deserves to have a place to play and be a priority. 

"Special Olympics isn't just about athletes with physical and intellectual disabilities," Lawton said, "it's about everybody coming together as one. We are united as one."

Since 1968, Special Olympics Michigan has been providing year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Our athletes develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience the joys of competition while building friendships with fellow athletes, coaches, and volunteers. To learn more about Special Olympics Michigan, visit SOMI.org or click here

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