At the Special Olympics, to participate is to win
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Vital LaRocque embodied the spirit of the Special Olympics when he crossed the giant-slalom finish line Sunday at Copper Mountain. LaRocque, a 24-year-old Summit County local, raised his arms in triumph a moment after falling down and spending nearly 10 seconds on the ground before righting himself to complete his first run in front of a boisterous crowd. Clearly, the mishap didn’t phase him.”I’m happy,” he said with a wide grin while standing just outside the corral area of the Bittersweet race course.
“He could come in 10th and he’ll always be happy about it,” said Joe Penland, LaRoque’s stepfather and 10th-year coach. “Everybody’s a winner really.”Despite his opening-run fall, LaRocque won the advanced giant slalom in the 22-and-over men’s division. The Special Olympics veteran was one of six locals competing in the 29th-annual Colorado Winter Games, a two-day event that includes snowboarding, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing in addition to alpine skiing. Kelly Faber (first in 12- to 16-year-old division), Kaitlin Strahlo (second, 16 to 21) and Marion Stetson (second, 22 and over) were also in the advanced giant slalom category, while Karin Farmer (third, 16 to 21) and Caroline Willis (fourth, 16 to 21) skied in the intermediate slalom.Faber was chosen to carry the Special Olympics torch in Saturday evening’s opening ceremony.
According to her mom, Mary Faber, Kelly was up for the task despite some trepidation.”I asked her if she’d be willing to do it and she said, ‘Yeah,'” Mary Faber said. “I asked her if it would be fun for her and she said, ‘Yeah, but I’m a little nervous.’ She’s pretty excited about it.”Faber, who is in her second year as a winter Special Olympian, was instantly congratulated by teammates and parents following her first run.”There are some perks you can only get from the Special Olympics,” Mary Faber said. “Like everyone cheering you on and telling you how great you are.”Led by coaches Penland, Sharon Farmer and Kent Willis, Summit’s athletes began training at Copper in mid-January.
Although practice normally takes place on Easy Feelin’, Summit’s racers received a few sneak peaks of Bittersweet prior to Sunday’s race. In addition, each local athlete competed in Sunlight Mountain’s regional competition early in the winter, which qualified them for the Winter Games.This year’s Winter Games, which culminate today, includes more than 400 athletes and 500 volunteers. Special Olympics Colorado, which is directed by president and CEO Mindy Watrous, calls on some 6,000 volunteers each year to facilitate nearly 100 events.”We have a staff of only 22,” Watrous said. “Without the volunteers, we could never put on 100 events a year and we could never put on events of this magnitude.”
There are roughly 8,500 Coloradoans who compete in 22 different sports.According to Watrous, anyone who has an intellectual disability is eligible to compete as long as they’re at least 8 years old. And there’s no age limit.”Some people have been competing since we started in Colorado in 1969,” she said. “We have 50-, 60- and 70-year-olds.”Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-4634, or at email@example.com.
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