Although in-person competition over the last few months was canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, three Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes recently had the unique opportunity to compete in Special Olympics’ and Microsoft’s 2020 Xbox Virtual Gaming Event.
Scott Rolling of Waunakee Special Olympics, Robert Lambert of Viroqua Special Olympics, and Michael Pribek of the Manitowoc County Miracles were among 35 athletes representing 11 states who battled it out online on May 30 in Forza Motorsport 7, a popular car racing video game.
Lambert secured a fourth place finish in division 3 while Rolling earned a bronze in the same division. Meanwhile, Pribek nabbed a silver in division 4.
For Pribek, the experience was something he’ll never forget because it brought together three of his favorite things in the world. “The event was really fun,” Pribek said. “I love NASCAR, video gaming and Special Olympics, and all three of my favorite things were in this event.”
“I want to thank Special Olympics and Microsoft for having this event. It was a great experience and I had a really good time.” – Michael Pribek
The event gave Special Olympics athletes an opportunity to compete in ways not typically associated with Special Olympics. Back in 2018, Xbox hosted the first video gaming tournament at a Special Olympics event during the Special Olympics USA Games held in Seattle, Washington. Special Olympics athletes from four states competed head-to-head at the University of Washington and showed how much passion existed for an event like this in the Special Olympics community.
It was such a hit that Special Olympics and Microsoft quickly realized this could be a great way to support Special Olympics athletes during these stay-at-home orders.
For Special Olympics athlete gamers like Pribek, an event like this scratches an itch that traditional Special Olympics events can’t quite reach. While Pribek, who ran a blazing 7:34 mile in the recent Virtual Summer Games, loves fitness and competing athletically, video gaming is an equally important part of his life. It’s such a large part that he researches games voraciously and even has committed to visiting as many GameStop video game stores as possible in Wisconsin. On one two-day trip, he visited 21 GameStops!
“Video gaming is my favorite thing to do,” Pribek said. “My relatives and close friends like to talk to me about video games and systems, because I know a lot about them.”
Thanks to this event, Pribek was able compete in a gaming competition for the first time in his life, and it couldn’t have come on a bigger stage. Fans, families, and friends celebrated Special Olympics athletes and helped combat isolation by watching the livestreamed races on Mixer, Xbox YouTube, or Twitch. The recording of the event currently has nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.
Although Pribek couldn’t physically receive his hard-fought silver medal immediately after his race, he was able to virtually stand on the podium in Special Olympics’ first-ever award ceremony in the popular Minecraft game.
Between the YouTube recording and an awesome shirt and medal that he later received, Pribek will have plently of ways to memorialize this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not that he’ll need reminders though.
“I want to thank Special Olympics and Microsoft for having this event,” Pribek said. “It was a great experience and I had a really good time.”