When Julie Hutchinson of Placentia was 7 years old, she began training for the Special Olympics.
"As her brother went off to soccer practice, she went to Special Olympics practice," said Julie's mom, Connie, 47. "It was good for her to have a team sport to go to."
Fifteen years later, Julie is 22 and entered in two events at the 1998 Southern California Special Olympics Summer Games this weekend at UCLA. This is her second appearance in the regional games, which bring together 1,300 mentally disabled athletes from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.
Julie will run the 100-meter race and play softball.
"I like it very much," she said, "because I like meeting new friends and just being out there with the team."
Julie is one of 160 athletes from Orange County competing in dozens of events today and Sunday. The county's contingent is again the largest of 31 teams competing, said Nancy Ward, director of marketing for Special Olympics.
To Julie, who has Down's syndrome, visiting UCLA for the weekend gives her a glimpse of her dream: to go to college someday. The Special Olympians are spending the weekend in dormitories and exploring the Westwood campus.
Julie wants to attend a special school for the disabled near Bakersfield, where she would have that experience every day and work toward an associate degree. Right now, she's at the top of a very long waiting list, her mom said.
Special Olympics events include aquatics, track and field, basketball, golf, gymnastics, tennis and boccie ball. This weekend's contest qualifies athletes for the 1999 Special Olympics World Games in North Carolina.
Events run from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. UCLA is on Westwood Boulevard in Westwood. Admission is free.
Information: (800) TEAM-CSO.