Upwards of 350 participants from around Colorado are set to compete at the Special Olympics at Copper Mountain Sunday. It will be the 24th consecutive year that the resort has hosted the event.
Athletes will compete in alpine, Nordic, snowboarding and snowshoeing on Sunday. The festivities actually begin Saturday in Littleton with figure skating and speed skating events.
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
The snowshoe cross-country events feature athletes of various abilities and consist of three different courses - short, medium and long, the latter being 7.5 kilometers. For snowboarding there is novice, intermediate and advanced competitions on two different courses. Alpine skiing offers the same abilities levels on four courses, including a GS and super-G.
"We have athletes from all over the state," said Amy Turner, spokeswoman for Special Olympics Colorado (SOCO). "(The athletes) had to do an eight-week training, and they also had to have participated in an area event. ... It means everything to them. They truly enjoy it, especially the state games experience, winning the medal and being able to showcase their abilities on the hill."
Six Colorado athletes who earn gold medals this weekend will meet one of the requirements to quality for the World Games in South Korea (January 2013). In late March 2012, SOCO will announce the six Colorado representatives for Team USA.
The event is a joint effort between Special Olympics Colorado and Copper Mountain.
"A lot of (Copper's) alpine staff, who work the mountain help us out. They volunteer for the day. They're very generous to us. We also have eight weeks of training leading up the competition that the athletes go through, and they offer us training every Saturday," Chase said.
Copper Mountain sets super-G and GS courses for the athletes every weekend and SOCO has partnerships set up around the state for training.
"This is one of our biggest events, as far as the time that goes into and for the athletes, the skill level is pretty amazing. So we're all really looking forward to it. We try to get as many family members up there," Turner said.
The idea for a scarf project resulted from an opportunity to provide a gift of welcome for the athletes of the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games held in Boise, Idaho. A call went out for 5,000 Red Heart delft blue-and-white scarves, and by game time nearly 60,000 scarves had arrived from every state in the U.S. and from 12 countries around the world.
Special Olympics Idaho, then, carried on the tradition with its own state scarf project in 2010, and again the knitting and crocheting communities opened their hearts and put their needles and hooks to work. Over 2,100 Red Heart cherry red-and-grey heather scarves arrived from 48 states in just five weeks for the Idaho State Winter Games, and the celebration of unity began as they were presented to the athletes, coaches, families, volunteers and supporters during the Opening Ceremony.
In 2011, the Special Olympics USA Scarf Project spread its wings and went national. Thirty-five Special Olympics programs participated, and by the conclusion of the project in March 2011, we had received over 26,000 scarves and contributed to an unprecedented sense of unity, support and community for the athletes and the Special Olympics Movement as a whole. The colors for the 2012 Games are red and navy. The support has grown significantly - Colorado needed just 800 scarves and received more than 2,000 at its Englewood office over the past few months.
The Special Olympics Colorado press office contributed to this report