Special Olympics reap smiles at Copper | SummitDaily.com

Special Olympics reap smiles at Copper

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Vital LaRocque’s coaches told him to ski like a dragon around the slalom gates during the 2003 Special Olympics at Copper Mountain Tuesday, and that’s exactly what he did.

LaRocque is a 20-year-old Summit County resident with Down syndrome, and every year, he gets faster and more efficient in his alpine racing.

It all made sense when his coaches explained that, in order to make tight turns around the giant slalom and slalom gates, he’d have to pretend he was a snake or a dragon. The technique helped him land two silver medals this year at Copper.

LaRocque said the medals are the best part of the Special Olympics, which wrapped up Tuesday. His team, which includes local athletes K.C. Farmer, Marion Stetson and Kate Strahlo, was one of the best competing in the 2003 Games, which featured 530 athletes from throughout Colorado racing in alpine, snowshoeing and cross country events.

“It was good stuff,” LaRocque said. “We’re a good team.”

Farmer, who is 16 years old and the newest member of the Summit County Special Olympics Team, landed a gold medal in the intermediate slalom race Tuesday and a silver in the GS Monday.

“It was exciting seeing K.C. do so well,” said Joe Penland, who, along with his wife, Geri, Steve Clemins, Mary Kay Rivard and John MacDougall, coach the Summit team.

“She’s gotten better and better every year. Seeing K.C. progress so much is the neatest thing about (coaching the team this year), and also the look on her mom’s face when she saw how much faster she is, and how much better her skiing is. It’s neat when athletes have families come in from out of town.”

Strahlo won a bronze medal in GS and a silver in slalom, and Stetson won two silver medals.

After stepping off the podium, the Special Olympics athletes smiled ear to ear and gave hugs to everyone around them. Closing ceremonies featured a slide show of images collected from the three days of competition (Sunday through Tuesday).

Coordinating an event with hundreds of mentally disabled athletes is no easy task, but coaches, volunteers and Copper Mountain staff pulled it off without a hitch this year. Some individuals involved in the event said the slide show was a final reminder of why they participate year to year.

“This year was so smooth, I can’t give Copper enough kudos for what they do for us,” Penland said. “They close down runs for us, they started the lifts an hour early for us … it’s pretty neat.

“The slide show is great – all the kids and the excited looks on their faces. It always chokes us up every year. We’ve had some frustrations with things in the past – technical problems, timing, or having to wait for various things. We’ve had a couple years we’ve been like, “We’ll never do this again.’ But, when you see how happy the (athletes) get … now we know why we do it.”

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