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Heading to nationals

Alexandria’s Anne Friederichs practices bocce ball at a facility in the Twin Cities area. (Contributed)

After trying the sport of bocce for only one year, Anne Friederichs decided she wanted to take a stab at playing golf.

But soon she realized golf was not the sport for her. Friederichs went back to playing bocce as a part of the Alexandria Area Special Olympics, and seven years later that decision is paying off.

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This June, Friederichs will be one of only eight Special Olympians from Minnesota in the sport of bocce who will be taking the trip to New Jersey to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games.

“Golfing didn’t do well for me,” she said. “I didn’t really like it.”

The Minnesota bocce team is made up of eight athletes from Minnesota – four men and for women. Each bocce athlete will compete in singles, doubles and a four person team.

Even better yet, Anne’s father, Bob Friederichs, will be attending the games as one of two Minnesota bocce coaches. He has been a coach on many of the Special Olympics teams that Anne has played on, including the sports of bocce, swimming, golf and bowling.

Now at the national games this June, he will be there to coach Minnesota’s four male bocce players.

“Just about anything Anne’s doing I’m there to coach,” Bob said.

Considering the Special Olympic USA Games begin around the start of the summer bocce season, the Minnesota athletes have already started their preparations. The athletes and coaches have avoided the winter weather by practicing indoors to get ready in time for the games.

“We have found an indoor bocce court in the Twin Cities, and we have been holding some practices periodically between now and when we go,” Bob said.

A Special Olympics bocce competition involves a stricter set of rules then what you might play in your backyard.

Athletes play the game inside a boarded court that is about 10 feet long by 60 feet wide. The goal for athletes is to roll a bocce ball closest to the target ball, called a pallino. It is important for the athletes to have an understanding of the game’s strategy as there are rules about communication.

“Once the competition begins, the coaches can no longer give advice to athletes,” Bob said. “The only people who can talk during that are the athletes.”

The Special Olympics USA Games also has unique events for the participating athletes beyond their competitions. An Olympic village will be a gathering place for athletes, and they will also be able to take a one night trip into New York City for a harbor tour. A select group of athletes will have the option to fly to the games in a donated corporate jet with a program called the Citation Special Olympics Airlift.

“A lot of new experiences for these athletes,” Bob said.

With four months left before Special Olympics USA Games and preparations underway, Anne Friederichs is ready for the games to begin.

“I am excited,” she said.

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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