CommunitySpecial Olympics


Special Olympics Montana: "It's family"

Domingo Zapata says he's been with Special Olympics Montana "before I was born"
Domingo Zapata part of SOMT from his sister Consuela
Posted at 1:49 PM, Apr 30, 2024

HELENA — Special Olympics Montana (SOMT) is an athlete-centered, family-based, volunteer-driven, and sponsor-supported movement with 3,000 athletes registered in 121 programs, from 65 Montana communities.

It’s an iconic event that is crucial to every Special Olympic Athlete in the state, and it’s not easy to put on every year.

SOMT is a special event that relies heavily on fundraising, and support from communities from across the treasure state.

The summer games offer an opportunity for those of all abilities to go for gold against others from across Montana.

For all of it to come together, it takes dedicated people like Domingo Leveque-Zapata to volunteer year-round.

“Just being able to witness it and the joy on their faces when they do win or just a joy in the face when they've accomplished a small goal. Whether that being able to dribble down the court, set a solid screen, get a rebound, or finally make their first shot, you can’t get that kind of excitement anywhere else,” said Zapata.

Special Olympics Montana Basketball Tournament 2023

Zapata is a Sergeant with the Helena Police Department and also serves as the Director of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for SOMT, a powerful public awareness tool to raise money for Special Olympic programs worldwide.

“The Montana chapter, we have several officers that put on events such as Tip-A-Cop, our most popular event is for Polar Plunges, and then various other events throughout the year, raising funds and awareness for the Special Olympics movement,” said Zapata.

As Zapata mentioned, their Sweetheart Passion Plunge is one of their biggest drivers in funds for the Special Olympic Montana Games raising over $33,000 for the event.

"My extended family through it, whether it's my officers in blue that are helping me out, or brown, or green troopers and deputies, or it's my friends outside of the community that are saying, hey, we're going to help you," said Zapata.

It’s an event that Leveque-Zapata always looks forward to, in fact, it’s an event that most of his family can't wait for, getting their phones ready to record him plunging into the icy water below.

“Every single one of my family members comes out for pizza when we Tip-A-Cop, they love to come and watch me do the plunge. I have a trademark scream that I do every year, and my sister Sally knows when it's coming and she loves to put that on Facebook. But that's what it is, it's family,” said Zapata.

The "Zapata Scream"

The Special Olympics has played a big role in Zapata’s life, from its peer networks while he was in school, to volunteering and coaching, he says family connected him with the games.

“I’ve been a part of it since before I was born because my sister Consuela was an athlete. So my earliest photos there are of me, is me being on my mom's hip while she’s competing at track and field over at Vigilante Stadium. So it's just been in our family for the longest time,” said Zapata.

Domingo Zapata at SOMT games with mom

And over the years, SOMT has become a family for Zapata.

“I get so much love and appreciation from the athletes, and I can never pay it back as much as they give it to me. But I try every day,” said Zapata.

Zapata wants to remind people that there are lots of ways to support the Special Olympics and its athletes. From monetary donations, to volunteering, even just attending the games and cheering on the athletes.

"Even though it's a volunteer position,” said Zapata, “you're going to get paid in spades just through that sheer enjoyment and love that you're going to see from the athletes."