Friday, January 25, 2008

Michigan Special Olympians Succeed at Winter Sports

Eleven-year-old Nikki O'Brien, top, and Katie Merriner, 9, laugh while being pulled on a sled by Bill Parrish Thursday morning at Mt. Holiday Ski and Recreation Area. The two were participating in the Special Olympics area two winter games. About 135 people participated in the annual event which includes competitions like snow shoe races, downhill and cross country skiing and sledding.
photo: Tyler Sipe / Record-Eagle
Alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating are all popular winter activities. And last week, Special Olympians (SO) gathered at Traverse City, Michigan, to participate and compete in these events. Special Olympics are athletic events designed for those with mental disabilities.

One father of an Olympian explained, "Most of these kids can't do organized Little League or a bowling league. Most of them don't care if they win or lose, but that they participate and finish." His sone competed in the snowshoe races

"Participation in Special Olympics changes lives, and the Winter Games is catalyst for change," Special Olympics Michigan Public Relations Director Vanessa Walsh said. "We have hundreds of volunteers and athletes spending time side by side. Perceptions about intellectual disabilities are changed, self confidence is built, lasting friendships by volunteers and athletes are forged and respect is earned. Special Olympics and the State Winter Games is much like a utopia – people are accepted and appreciated for who they are regardless of ability level. Everyone is valued."

Some of the athletes take the events very seriously. Samantha Snyder, age sixteen, of Mt. Pleasant trains twice a week for the snowshoe races. She competed in the 75 and 100 meter events, while her sister Nicole took part in cross country skiing. The girls are trained by their father, while their mother and brother volunteer as chaperones at the games.

A group which travels to Traverse City from Livingston bills themselves as the Wertz Warriors. They found training difficult- having to snowshoe on grass to practive. Raising enough money for the trips is always a challenge as well. But the athletes hug and thank them, said a support volunteer. "I tell people they should go up there and experience it at least once. It is hard to describe, the feeling it gives you."

The Winter Games are one of seven state-level competitions held annually. The Traverse City venue is in the 32nd year of operations. The games provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The SO motto, "Let me win but if I can not win let me be brave in the attempt," rings true, and perhaps it should resonate more with all of us, not just the mentally challenged.

by Joan H. Young
with material from the Livingston Community News, "Special Olympians prepare for Winter Games, Wertz Warriors", Jan 25, 2008
and Morning Sun, "Winter Games are a family affair for the Snyders", by Jeremy H. Dickman, Jan 25, 2008
and the Traverse City Record-Eagle, "Special Olympics held in Traverse City", by Victor Skinner, Jan 18, 2008
These links are checked on the date of the article. As the article ages, some links may become invalid

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