Challenge Aspen athletes make their X Games debut with Special Olympics races
Local skier, snowboarder teamed up with pros for head-to-head racing
Tanner Jadwin knew it wasn’t going to be easy to land on the podium of the Special Olympics Unified Sports ski race held at X Games Aspen on Jan. 21.
“It’s going to be probably some pretty tough competition,” Jadwin said in an interview the night before the race.
He and Matthew Boyles, both longtime Challenge Aspen athletes with cognitive impairments, were feeling some night-before jitters — the nervous kind and the excited kind — for their X Games debut.
“I’m feeling pretty awesome. … I’m so pumped,” Boyles said Jan. 20.
The Unified Sports races would put the Glenwood Springs residents — 28-year-old Jadwin on skis, 35-year-old Boyles on a snowboard — at the start gates of a venue where they’ve only ever watched the competition from the spectator section.
It turns out that “tough competition” would include Jadwin. He clinched a bronze medal in the ski division with his pro partner David Wise, a two-time Olympic ski halfpipe gold medalist and four-time X Games superpipe gold medalist. (Wise also picked up another bronze in this year’s ski superpipe at the X Games.)
Boyles landed in seventh place in the snowboard division with his teammate Dusty Henricksen, who took home gold medals in the snowboard knuckle huck and slopestyle competitions at the X Games last year.
For Boyles, who’s been racing for nearly a decade and a half, the course was exactly the kind of course he was used to. The race certainly lined up with Boyle’s pre-competition feelings, too.
“(It) felt pretty awesome — it was a great experience,” he said in a Jan. 24 recap interview.
Jadwin and Boyles train together with the Challenge Aspen Locals Program and are no rookies on the slopes or the race course; both have amassed a hefty collection of hardware from years of National Standard Racing (NASTAR) and Special Olympics competitions and are regulars on the NASTAR course at Snowmass.
But even with plenty of practice, Jadwin figured he had about a “50-50” chance of landing on the podium, he said in a recap interview Jan. 24.
“It was kind of a cool experience,” Jadwin said. “I got a lot of people that were all proud and excited for me — a lot of family and support, which is nice. Even my church yesterday wanted to see it.”
Special Olympics Unified Sports programming “breaks down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities and promotes social inclusion and participation through athletics,” according to a news release. This year marked the seventh X Games Aspen go-around for Unified Snowboarding and the second time for Unified Skiing.
Race results from Special Olympics Unified competition were based on a combined time between cognitive adaptive athletes and their partners, all of whom were alums or current competitors from the top of the X Games and Olympic ranks. There were 10 teams in the ski division and 10 in snowboarding.
Pairs of adaptive athletes hit the course followed by pairs of pros going head to head, though who crossed the finish line first didn’t have any bearing on the results and was more for the entertainment factor; the clock started for each athlete when they left the gate and stopped when they crossed the finish line.
The gold medal for Unified Skiing this year went to the 2020 champion Palmer Lyons and his pro partner for this year, James Woods; silver went to Halden Pranger and Aaron Blunk and bronze to Jadwin and Wise. In Unified Snowboarding, gold went to Diana Shilts and Mons Roisland, silver to Cody Field and Rene Rinnekangas and bronze to Catherine Darrow and Annika Morgan.
Jadwin had plenty of kudos to share for his fellow athletes, all of whom put out a strong effort on the race course, he said.
“I’m just glad that everybody did the best they could,” Jadwin said. “Trying is all you can really do sometimes.”
Challenge Aspen’s Locals Program offers year-round social and athletic opportunities for people with disabilities in the Roaring Fork Valley as part of its Recreational, Educational and Cultural (REC) programming that focuses on inclusion and access to the outdoors.
Jadwin learned to ski with Challenge Aspen and has been training with the crew there for eight years; Boyles has been snowboarding for 17 years, competing for 15 and training with Challenge Aspen for the past half a decade.
They’re both planning to be back at the start gates for Special Olympics regionals at Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs on Feb. 11 and at states at Copper Mountain in Frisco on March 6.
Both also are likely to race at NASTAR National Championships, which return to Snowmass on April 4-9; Challenge Aspen typically brings a sizeable contingent across multiple divisions to compete on home turf.
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