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story.lead_photo.caption Jessica Sears works out with small weights as her classmates at The Sunshine School cheer her on. Sears has been named to Team Arkansas for the 2018 Special Olympics USA games in July. She will compete in powerlifting. - Photo by William Harvey

— Jessica Sears, 21, has a lot to celebrate these days.

She has been named to Team Arkansas for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games and will compete in powerlifting at those games, which will be held July 1-6 in Seattle, Washington.

She won a bronze medal in powerlifting Jan. 19 at a meet sponsored by Special Olympics Arkansas Area 4 in Alma.

And she will celebrate her 22nd birthday on Valentine’s Day.

Since the announcement of Team Arkansas in December, Sears has been working out to prepare for the national event. She will participate in deadlift, bench press and double combination, in which the two events are combined for a score.

Camie Powell, director of marketing and corporate relations for Special Olympics Arkansas, said Sears prequalified for the team with a maximum score of 75 pounds in bench press and 115 pounds in deadlift for her age and division.

Sally Paine, head teacher at The Sunshine School in Searcy and director of Special Olympics Arkansas Area 6, said Sears attended a Special Olympics Arkansas sports camp at John Brown University in Siloam Springs this past summer, and that is when she was selected to compete in powerlifting.

“I am good at it,” Sears said, smiling. She said she exercises at home, doing pushups, situps, squats and stretches. She also attends team practices once at month at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

“I like games,” Sears said. “For Special Olympics, I also do bowling, basketball, bocce, and track and field.”

Paine said she does not yet know whether Sears will participate in another local Special Olympics competition that includes powerlifting.

“But she will participate in powerlifting at the Special Olympics Arkansas Summer Games on May 24-26 at Harding University,” Paine said. “I am also trying to make arrangements with a local gym, where she might train.”

Paine said Sears is involved in a Special Olympics athlete leadership program.

“She has learned how to present herself and speak in public,” Paine said. “She spoke to a local civic club this past fall. She wrote her own speech with a little supervision.

“The athletes in this program represent Special Olympics Arkansas all over the state,” Paine said.

Paine said that although there is no cost for the athletes to attend the summer Special Olympics, it can be costly for the families. She said Sears has sold Special Olympics T-shirts for a fundraiser.

Sears is one of five siblings adopted by her parents, Jan Sears of Searcy and the late Tom Sears. The family first lived in Texas, where Jessica Sears joined Special Olympics. They moved to California, where they lived for several years before coming to Arkansas in 2013. Sears lived in Alma, where she graduated from high school and participated in Special Olympics Arkansas Area 4 competitions before moving to Searcy in 2016. She is a full-time student at The Sunshine School, which serves students of all ages with developmental disabilities. Her brother, Dom Sears, attends Harding University in Searcy. The family attends Highway Church of Christ in Judsonia.

Special Olympics Arkansas Area 6 includes White, Jackson and Woodruff counties.

“We always need volunteers,” Paine said. “We need people to come out and be spectators, too. Donations are welcome as well.”

Special Olympics Arkansas CEO Terri Weir said, “USA Games is a fantastic way for our athletes and coaches to represent Arkansas on a larger scale.

“We hope that the entire state of Arkansas will get behind our team. Be a fan of Team Arkansas, and I promise our athletes will exceed your expectations.”

For more information on Special Olympics Arkansas Area 6, contact Paine at or (501) 281-2642.

More information on Special Olympics Arkansas is available at or by calling (501) 771-0222.

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