When Katrina Shaklee was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it opened her eyes to a whole new world.
At the time, Shaklee was employed by the Sooner State Games. Her diagnosis started her thinking about a similar athletic contest for people with physical disabilities.
“I was going to meetings with people with MS and seeing people in wheelchairs and things like that,” Shaklee said. “It got me to thinking.”
That was the birth of the Endeavor Games, which is celebrating its 15th year in 2014. The Endeavor Games will be Thursday and through Sunday at six sites in Edmond, Oklahoma City and near Arcadia.
The first Endeavor Games in 2000 featured 91 athletes competing in five different sports.
“It was almost an experiment at the time to see if it would work in Oklahoma,” Shaklee said. “There was no guarantee we would do it again.”
Fifteen years later, the Endeavor Games has more than doubled its number of sports and more than tripled its number of athletes. A total of 350 athletes are expected to compete this year, some in multiple events.
“When you just leap off and do something you don’t know where it’s going to take you,” Shaklee said. “To see it like it is now, it’s really amazing.”
A non-profit group formed to organize the first Endeavor Games. It later partnered with the University of Central Oklahoma, and Shaklee became executive director of UCO’s Wellness Center, where U.S. Paralympic Clinics are being held Thursday.
“UCO allowed so many bigger and better dreams (for the Endeavor Games),” Shaklee said. “They have the facility and the infrastructure and the support.”
The Olympic and Paralympic Training Center designations for UCO and the Oklahoma River also gave the Endeavor Games a boost. Many athletes now use the Endeavor Games to try and qualify for Paralympic national and international events.
The first contests are Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on the Oklahoma River in Paracanoe.
Swimming returns to the 2014 Endeavor Games with the addition of the new state-of-the-art pool at Edmond’s Mitch Park YMCA.
The last year of swimming in the Endeavor Games was two years ago at UCO’s old pool in Hamilton Fieldhouse. That year, only 15 swimmers competed.
This year, 60 swimmers are entered and it’s the direct result of the new pool with its stadium seating, said Leigha Pemberton, Olympic and Paralympics Training Site Manager at UCO.
“We have a better facility with the right timing equipment, all the right things with having a good competition,” she said. “Hamilton Fieldhouse wasn’t set up for that anymore, not that level of competition.”
Over the years, athletes from 184 cities, 38 states and four countries have participated in the Endeavor Games.