By Bill Foley
Of all the events Zach Stenson competed in at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, the 400-meter race was his least favorite.
When he returned to the Mining City with a collection of medals, the one he won in the 400, though, is the one that stands out the most.
The 19-year-old Stenson ran the 400 in 1 minute, 7.43 seconds on the Fourth of July capture the gold.
Stenson, a 2017 Butte High graduate, laughed Monday as his father, John, pointed that out.
“He didn’t want to do the 400, and he ended up getting gold in it,” John Stenson said.
The gold is only part of the story for Zach Stenson, who returned Friday night from the Games at the University of Washington.
Stenson, the first Butte Special Olympian to compete in the USA Games, makes quite a clang as he walks with all his accomplishments hanging around his neck. That’s because he also won a silver medal, a bronze medal and a fifth-place ribbon.
More importantly, Stenson accomplished his No. 1 goal as he departed for Seattle. He had fun.
“Yeah, it was way fun,” Stenson said.
What was the best part of the trip that included eight days in Seattle, living in a University of Washington dorm, and watching a Seattle Mariners-Los Angeles Angels game in Safeco Field?
“Just hanging out and making new friends,” Stenson said.
“He has some buddies now from Big Timber and Kalispell,” John Stenson added. “His coach was awesome. He was from Eureka.”
How about standing atop the medal podium receiving a gold medal?
“Yeah,” Zach said, “that was cool, too.”
Mike Trout, one of Stenson’s favorite players, did not hit a home run in the Angels’ 4-1 loss to the Mariners on Thursday. He did hit a double that Stenson and his fellow Special Olympians could see from their seats high up behind home plate.
“They were high, but we could see the whole field,” said Stenson, a Red Sox fan whose dream is to watch a game in Fenway Park.
John and Heather Stenson watched their son compete in Seattle. John said the athletes there were remarkable.
“It was ultra-competitive,” John Stenson said. “The guys running the 100 were fast. Some of those guys looked like NFL players. It was impressive the competition.”
Stenson placed second in the long jump with a leap of 2.89 meters. His bronze medal in the 200 came after he finished in 29.50 seconds. His ribbon came in the 100.
Stenson was one of 12 athletes from Montana to compete in the USA Games.
“Three of the 12 got gold,” John Stenson pointed out. “All of them got something. They were a good group of kids.”
Now, Zach Stenson will set his sights on the third Burgman/Boyle Classic, which will be held next month at Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Gymnasium. That event in honor of the late Kyle Burgman and Casey Boyle includes a Special Olympics game, and Stenson has played in the previous two.
“That’s his favorite thing to do in the summer,” John Stenson said. “He loves that. He’s going to start practicing for that now.”
Basketball is Zach Stenson’s favorite sport, and Casey Boyle was his favorite coach. He thought so much of Boyle that he wrote his initials on the shoes he wore as he won three medals and one ribbon at the USA Games.
“He was great to these kids,” John Stenson said of Boyle. “The kids loved them.”
Stenson returned home to find a banner covering his front door, congratulating him on his success at the USA Games.
A celebratory firetruck ride is also in the works. That will likely be held Wednesday night, giving our returning hero a well deserved victory lap around the Mining City.
You will be able to hear Stenson coming from blocks away. Make sure to listen for the siren and the clanging from his impressive collection of medals.