Breckenridge resident works to grow Summit Special Olympics ahead of weekend games at Copper Mountain
Diane Mikulis honored as Special Olympics Colorado's January volunteer of the month
FRISCO — Leading up to this weekend’s Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games at Copper Mountain Resort, Summit County’s Special Olympics community has received a major addition.
Since former Maryland resident Diane Mikulis relocated to Summit County full time last summer, the longtime Special Olympics volunteer and coach has made it her mission to grow the Special Olympics community here and across the state. Joining forces with Summit County coach Kent Willis, Mikulis has worked with Special Olympics Colorado’s Denver office and local entities to grow the number of volunteers at this weekend’s games as well as the number of sports the Special Olympics offers its athletes in Summit County.
Despite being here full time for just under six months, Mikulis was named Special Olympics Colorado volunteer of the month in January for all the work she did at last year’s Colorado winter and summer games and in advance of this weekend’s games at Copper. Mikulis brought with her to Summit County 37 years of experience with Special Olympics in a variety of roles, including coaching Alpine skiing for 15 years and at three Special Olympics World Winter Games.
“People think it’s all about competitions and winning medals,” Mikulis said. “It really isn’t. It’s about helping them develop more self-confidence, self-esteem, things that are going to help them in other aspects in their lives. I’ve seen many athletes really grow in their confidence and their ability to interact with others.”
Mikulis, 61, found a passion for working with the Special Olympics after volunteering as a camp counselor for a social service agency in Pittsburgh offering programs for children with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome. Then when she moved to Maryland, Mikulis saw a flier included in her electric bill asking for “huggers” — volunteers to embrace athletes after their events — at the local Special Olympics.
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“And I was hooked from that first time,” Mikulis said.
Over the years, Mikulis worked at the state and county levels for Special Olympics in Maryland, coaching many sports but particularly enjoying skiing and tennis. With the move to Colorado, Mikulis said she’s been impressed with the skill level of Summit’s Alpine ski racers, such as 2019 gold medalist Ernesto Blanco.
“Coming out here and being able to really ski with our athletes has been amazing,” Mikulis said. “And a lot of them have been skiing a long time. We’ve got a real wide range of ages, from 8 to their late 30s. Here, they pretty much start skiing when they’re 3 to 4 years old. We have to train them to race, but we also want them to love the sport and want them to ski well into their old age.”
Summit County Special Olympians: Ethan Koons, Summit Clark, Caleb Joyner, Errika Abbot, Caroline Willis, Ernesto Blanco, Steven Kennedy, Vital LaRocque and head coach Kent Willis
Saturday, Feb. 22
11 a.m. Snowshoe and cross-country skiing
11:30 a.m. Super-G
6:30 p.m. Opening ceremony and parade
7:30 p.m. Victory dance
Sunday, Feb. 23
9:30 a.m. Giant slalom
10 a.m. Nordic skiing
12:30 p.m. Slalom
The Summit Special Olympians will have the opportunity to compete this weekend in the snowshoe and cross-country competition at 11 a.m. and super-G at 11:30 a.m. Saturday before the parade and opening ceremony at 6:30 p.m. in Burning Stones Plaza at Copper. Then on Sunday, athletes are slated to take part in giant slalom at 9:30 a.m., more snowshoe and cross-country at 10 a.m. and slalom at 12:30 p.m.
Once ski season is over, Mikulis said she’d like to broaden Summit Special Olympics’ partnerships and offerings. A volunteer for the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center for the past three winters, Mikulis said she’s been working with Ski Program Director Jeff Inouye to grow ski offerings. But beyond just skiing, the experienced tennis coach said she’d like to add some more sports like tennis, bowling, track and field, cycling and maybe even curling for the local Special Olympians.
Mikulis also has reached out through mediums such as the One Man’s Junk Facebook group and to entities like local special education teachers to find volunteers and gauge interest on expanded Special Olympics offerings in the county.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of Special Olympics Colorado,” said Special Olympics Colorado Chief Executive Officer Megan Scremin. “Simply put, we would not be able to serve our athletes without the dedicated support of volunteers like Diane and the more than 400 others who are generously donating their time to make our State Winter Games possible.”
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