Sammy Wester celebrates her diploma and graduation from Santa Rosa Junior College, May 24, 2022. Wester is competing in the Special Olympic Games which will be held in Orlando June 2022. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

Sami Wester from Petaluma Heading to the USA Special Olympics

The lullaby last week was just a prelude to Sammy Wester.

When she crossed the stage under the oak trees at Santa Rosa Junior College on May 24 on her way to becoming a three-year graduating class in college into placement program, Dean of Student Disabled Programs and Services Kimberly Stark announced to the community crowd the Next Wester gamble.

“She’s heading to Orlando, Florida, this summer to compete in track and field at the Special Olympics,” she said. “Congratulations Sami.”

And there was applause.

There will be more where that came from. The US Special Olympics will open Sunday in Orlando, Florida and Wester, which represents the whole of Northern California.

Wester, 25, made the list of 18 Special Olympics athletes.

You will compete in the 100m and 200m sprints and the long jump.

“I love competition,” she said.

Over the course of seven days, Wester, the 2015 Casa Grande High School graduate, will compete against some of the best.

About 5,500 athletes and coaches are expected to participate in front of 125,000 spectators throughout the week.

Moreover, Wester got a ticket reserved for Disneyworld.

But like all things done to a high standard (and all things worth doing), it hasn’t been easy for Wester, in the past few years.

With COVID interruptions, her commitment to school and a job has been at Oliver’s Market in Cotati, where she has worked as a companion clerk for the past year, focusing on her running and challenging exercises.

Especially when the athletes were forced to work out alone and the classes were all over Zoom.

“I am shocked and frustrated,” she said of online classes and working alone. “I love seeing my friends there. I’m stuck at home running.”

But these individual workouts can also be kind of liberating.

“I just took off running somewhere and then I walk, get some cool and run,” she said.

But she’s committed to training and has kept her focus on the parts she really loves: the racing.

From her home in Petaluma, she outlined how she beat up her ticket to Orlando: “Marin Games in Novato, were selected two years in a row for the NorCal State Games in Davis. I stayed in the dorms, that was great, and then I had to get a medal in that to be My choice for Florida,” she said. “And I’m the only one from Sonoma County who has made it happen.”

She joined athletes from San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties, among others.

Wister coaches Jodi Waller, a speech pathologist for the Sonoma County Office of Education, called at the 2019 Davis statewide games when Wester was used to carry a torch and run alongside a law enforcement representative.

It was a celebratory run, but Wester isn’t doing a party. She is fasting.

“Here was a healthy young man and I just passed him,” Waller recalls with a chuckle. “Don’t underestimate the power of our athletes.”

Always liked to run, Wester said she signed up for the Casa track and field team as a freshman, but decided to reprioritize after that.

“I had to focus on school work and homework,” she said.

So she and her family searched for other outlets for her sporting dreams.

“She wanted to keep competing and that’s when we founded Special Olympics,” said Sammy’s father, Scott Wester.

Missing personal trainings and classes at school was tough. Wester is a folk person. It was evident in her friends to her classmates during her graduation party last week.

Waller said it was evident from how she handled the practices.

“She saw how much training paid off and she really went for it,” she said. “She’s a great athlete, she’s so fast. She’s so proud of what she’s doing and her medals and she’s so much into the team part and she enjoys seeing everyone. I think that motivated her.”

“I worked to get rid of it,” she said.

Last week, when Wester walked into the graduation ceremony, her mortar board announced her next steps: Special Olympics, USA Games, Orlando 2022.

I pasted a picture of a runner breaking the bar.

“I’m trying to get at least two golds,” she said. “I’d be fine with the bronze but I don’t want to.

“But, bronze, it’s better than tape.”

Speak like a real competitor.

You can reach staff columnist Keri Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

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