Four Summit athletes eager to compete in Special Olympics |

Four Summit athletes eager to compete in Special Olympics

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Athletes from throughout Colorado descend on Copper Mountain Sunday through Tuesday for the 2003 Special Olympics Winter Games.

About 530 athletes ranging in age from 8 years to 70 years will compete in alpine skiing, crosscountry, snowboarding and snowshoeing events at Copper.

All athletes competing have various developmental disabilities, some of which include physical disabilities, but many individuals competing in the Special Olympics compete throughout the year and have overcome many of their developmental challenges.

“This is our largest event of the winter,” said Special Olympics Colorado public relations coordinator Katherine Howie. “Most of our athletes compete year-round. We’re going to have athletes from Cortez, Durango, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins …”

There are just four Summit County skiers competing in the 2003 Winter Games – 20-year-old Vital LaRocque, 16-year-old K.C. Farmer, 19-year-old Marion Stetson and 17-year-old Kate Strahlo. LaRocque’s parents, Geri and Joe Penland, have helped coach the local Special Olympics team for about eight years, and say their athletes have landed on the podium at almost every event.

“They’re all pumped up,” Geri Penland said of her team, other coaches for which include Steve Clemins, Mary Kay Rivard and John MacDougall. “Last Saturday was their last day of training, and they’re ready. They’re psyched.”

LaRocque, who has down syndrome, began skiing when he was about 7 years old. Every year at the Special Olympics, he takes first or second place, and gets bumped up into a more competitive field, his mother said.

She also said that the Special Olympics is the highlight of the Summit athletes’ winters, and that they have been anticipating it over the last couple months of training, which they’ve done every Saturday at Copper.

“They’re talking about this event, they’re talking about that,” Penland said. “They’ve even got a team howl. This year they came up with it. They ride the chair up, or wait for their turns (at the training start gate), and practice their team howl.”

Farmer skis without poles and has become much faster throughout the years, Penland said. Stetson has a trademark tuck technique around the gates, and Strahlo, despite starting out her races slow, has good control and usually ends up finishing first or second, Penland said.

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