Special Olympians race for the gold at Copper | SummitDaily.com

Special Olympians race for the gold at Copper

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk Russell Moore of Rangely (#344) and James Kennedy of Bailey (#23) take off on the 500-meter snowshoe race Saturday morning during the Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games at the base of Copper Mountain.

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Amy Mai of Colorado Springs and Barbara Antoine of Durango were neck-and-neck in the 100-meter snowshoe race here on Sunday, each sporting red cheeks and mischievous grins.”I did it!” Antoine gasped as she crossed the finish line, passing out high-fives among those cheering her on.She was one of more than 525 athletes from throughout the state who ventured to Copper Mountain to compete in the annual Special Olympics Colorado Winter Games.Special Olympics is an international organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. Special Olympics offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round training and competition in 26 Olympic-type summer and winter sports.

Special Olympics currently serves almost 1.4 million persons with intellectual disabilities in more than 200 programs in more than 150 countries.Children and adults who participate in Special Olympics develop improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence and a more positive self-image, according to the organization’s website. They grow mentally, socially and spiritually and, through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm, enjoy the rewards of friendship and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents but “their voices” as well.Jesse Jarvis of Grand Junction said he thought he would fare well in Sunday’s race. He said he and his coach train in the deep snow near Powderhorn area.The event, held Sunday and Monday, featured Nordic and downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and ice-skating, and attracted participants ranging in age from 8 to 68.

But for many, the Olympics are about way more than competition and sport.”It’s socializing with their peers,” said Nordic skiing and snowshoe co-director Valerie Koenig. “It’s a chance for them to compete and succeed. And it’s mostly a positive atmosphere. We’re surrounded by positive energy.”That was evident in everyone, from athletes who sometimes slowly plodded across the finish line with broad smiles on their faces to the volunteers, friends, families and spectators who cheered them on from the sidelines.”I’m tired,” said Josh Huber of Florence, as he crossed the finish line, puffing for air. “I hope this is my last race today.”

Tina Louise Chase of Boulder said she’s been snowshoeing for three years and the part she likes best is having a good time.She competed in the 100-meter short race and was resting up for the 300-meter race Monday.”I’m going to go for it,” she said. “I can make it.”The jubilation would increase to a climactic finish at the awards ceremony, where Miss Colorado 2004 Laura Tobey adorned the winning athletes with gold, silver and bronze medals. They were just as excited about winning them as they were to show them off.

“Everybody cheers,” Koenig said. “Everybody wants them to do well.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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