Lester Loner first got involved in the Lycoming County Special Olympics when he saw a notice in the newspaper about a reorganization meeting in 1989.
"I went to the meeting and been with it from then on," he said.
Loner volunteered at special olympic events before then, but only for a couple hours a year. After the meeting, Loner was not only a regular volunteer but also the county training coordinator - a position he's held since the meeting.
Being involved in community races and learning from others who have trained him has allowed him to help with the athletes in this capacity.
"I've done marathons - all different types of races. So from that aspect, it's a way of giving back," he said.
Loner explained before the 1989 reorganization meeting, the county's special olympics was a much smaller operation with only summer events. Since the meeting, they have added winter and fall games.
"That was when we're doing track and field and then we started doing cross country skiing," he said.
There is no cost for participants to sign up to compete, and a variety of events are available to be in - bowling and power lifting, among others. Since participants have disabilities, coaches measure success in different ways other than winning and losing.
"A lot of emphasis isn't about getting medals ... The emphasis is they get to compete with their friends," Loner said.
Loner said instead of a looking at the place they finish, they look at the strides the athletes have made.
If an athlete runs a one-second faster time than previously or jump an inch longer than last week, that's a win, Loner said.
"We're trying to look at their abilities, not disabilities," he said.
Participants are judged by coaches for their skills and work with them to improve.
"It's really no different than a coach would do in high school," Loner said.
Athletes train for a minimum of eight weeks, and could workout from one to four times a week. Loner said local YMCAs help with training as they provide facilities for workouts.
The county's program is completely volunteer-based and all money raised goes back into it.
Fundraisers are one way the athletes and volunteers are able to interact with the community.
Loner said being involved in the community is important for the organization.
"Yes, we are a sports organization... but tied into that we're trying to get them involved in the community," he said.
Not only does the organization allow participants to compete and train but allows them to gain confidence in other abilities.
Loner explained a three-day conference teaches athletes to talk to large groups about the special olympics.
He said at first, no one wants to say anything but soon that changes.
"It's amazing to see the athletes sit there and by Sunday, their giving five minute speeches," he said.
In the Unified Partners program, special olympic atheletes are paired with traditional athletes in order to raise the competition for all involved.
Loner said most times, it brings together brothers and sisters and allows them to compete together.
"Who would've ever thought they would play sports together?" he asked.
The athletes also learn life-skills through the organization.
One athlete who was able to attend and participate in the World Games in Greece came home and told her parents she would like to move out and try living on her own. The athlete moved into a group home and has been doing fine since. Loner said the parents told him they never thought she'd be able to do that.
Participants are able to help with the planning of the year's events, as well. Committees are made for the athletes to work on issues and decisions that need to be made for the organization.
"The special olympic athletes are the program," Loner said, "... They're the ones who should be running it."
But a big part of the organization is still the confidence and self esteem that comes with competing and improving.
"Everyone has the possibility to place first," Loner said.
The further an athlete can push themselves is what makes it worth it for Loner.
"The thing I like about the special olympics is you get to see the athletes progress and advance," he said.