Conway Police Department officers traveled to Searcy over the weekend to cheer on 25 Conway Human Development Center residents who competed in the 2019 Special Olympics of Arkansas Summer Games.

The SOAR games were held at Harding University and brought together more than 2,000 athletes and 500 coaches from across the state.

Athletes competed in Bocce ball, flag football, powerlifting, softball, swimming, track and field events and more.

CHDC Superintendent Sarah Murphy said it's encouraging to watch the facility's residents continue to grow as they participate in SOAR competitions throughout the year.

Each year, CHDC residents look forward to the state competition, because even if one doesn't qualify to go to the Summer Games, they are able to cheer on athletes and take part in the Torch Run festivities that kick off the annual competition.

"It was so great to see all the smiling faces of our residents and staff as they watched their peers run with the torch alongside our local law enforcement through the campus," she told the Log Cabin Democrat. "We are so thankful for Arkansas Special Olympics and the opportunities that are provided through this amazing program."

William Woods was among the 25 CHDC athletes who traveled to Searcy over the weekend to compete in the 2018 SOAR Summer Games.

The 29-year-old CHDC resident has participated in SOAR for the past 12 years.

Woods dabbles in all the sports offered. However, his favorite is basketball.

CHDC Head Special Olympics Coach Todd Garrett said Woods has bonded with other athletes and grown stronger through the years as he continues competing in SOAR games.

Through SOAR, Woods has created lasting friendships.

"Over the years, he has made many friends across the state through the program. He enjoys seeing them at each event," Garrett told the Log Cabin.

Along with the activities available through SOAR competitions, CHDC staff host a team-building camping trip each fall for resident athletes. The camping trip is a favorite among resident athletes, including Woods.

"He loves sitting around the campfire and going hiking," Garrett said.

SOAR provides a positive environment for the athletes who compete each year and inspires participants to push themselves to do more.

CHDC staff and SOAR coaches have enjoyed watching Woods progress through the years, Garrett said.

"We enjoy watching him improve as an athlete and [the improvements in] his character as well," Garrett said. "He puts so much effort into each event."

SOAR organizers often set up a dance after each major event during the annual competition. Woods is always excited and ready to show off his moves when the dance rolls around.

"He will usually be the first and the last one on the dance floor," Garrett said, adding he was proud of Woods, who hopes to one day qualify to compete in the National Games.

Conway officers who helped cheer on local athletes as well as other SOAR participants from across the state said the annual event is an uplifting and encouraging experience.

"It's a guaranteed mood changer when you're hanging out with athletes for Special Olympics or just seeing their smiling faces," CPD spokesman LaTresha Woodruff said Saturday. "We have had a wonderful time with Special Olympics Arkansas and our athletes from CHDC and ILS and all of the athletes from across Arkansas. They never stop smiling, giving high-fives, swimming, running, playing softball, powerlifting (the women do a great job at this by the way) and doing all these wonderful things."

Woodruff said she and others learned a lot about the athletes over the weekend and enjoyed taking part in the annual dance party.

"They don't let any challenge stand in their way, they don't sweat the small stuff and they love life and live it," she said. "We can all learn a lesson from them."

Conway officers also said they were grateful and honored to be the Law Enforcement Torch Run Guardians of the Flame of Hope and look forward to the 2019 Winter Games.