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Doing their best

"I've basically had the same team for 17 years now. After all those years, they know what they're doing," said Nolan, a Colonie resident.

Even Probst, a Devil Dogs rookie, has had prior basketball experience.

"I've been playing for years," said Probst, who grew up in Troy. "I started learning to play hoops when I was 8 years old."

The coaches work with the athletes for several months of the year to prepare them for the Special Olympics.

"The biggest challenge is that everyone that you're working with is dealing at different (intellectual) levels," said Shapiro, a Clifton Park resident. "The fact is, they are all individuals, and the ones who are here are doing it because they love it."

"I think one of the things we stress in practice is good sportsmanship," added Sue Handerhan, an Albany County track team coach from Menands. "We'd like to see them win medals, but we want them to do their best."

And for many of the athletes, crossing the finish line or completing an event brings a huge smile to their faces.

"Even if I win or lose, I think I did what I could with my abilities, as well as my teammates' and my coaches' abilities," said Probst. "I don't think of it as one person. I think of it as a team."

Or as Virkler put it, "I think everyone's really special. I think everyone's a winner."

At the Special Olympics, that statement couldn't be more true.""

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