Fite gets ball rolling for Special Olympics
Julie Fite doesn’t play, officiate or coach a team, yet she’s helped lay the foundation to produce the most athletes on the Western Slope.In her role as full-time Western area director for Special Olympics Colorado, Fite coordinates tournaments and events ranging from basketball to swimming to Nordic events for more than 11,000 Special Olympians from the Wyoming boarder to the San Juan mountains in Southwest Colorado.It’s a task – or better put, tasks – Fite tackles with verve, passion and a wide smile.Public acceptance of Special Olympics has taken a quantum leap from her initial days as a part-time, non-salaried volunteer in 1989 to now. Fite juggles a lot of hats prior to the time when the athletes gather for a competition’s opening ceremony.”The hours I spend depend on the competition,” Fite said. Currently, Fite is starting to sew the pieces together for the annual Western Area Winter Games, to take place at Sunlight Mountain Resort and Argonaut Farms in late February.”It’s a biggie,” she said of the Winter games. Fite said more than 200 athletes are expected to participate in alpine skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and cross country skiing events.Beside processing athlete’s required paperwork, Fite also recruits coaches, contacts area businesses for sponsorships, conducts games committee meetings and seeks room donations from local hotels.”Perhaps the hardest part of the job is the fundraising aspect,” she said. “I don’t mind it, but it’s getting tougher as time goes on. It’s tough and a challenge for sure and granted it’s not the funnest thing I do. But when a sponsor is secured, it’s a nice coup.”Having additional funds available allows Fite to bring more athletes in, including those from outlying areas.Frequently Fite has invited Utah and Wyoming athletes to competitions within her area’s jurisdiction. Getting as many athletes as possible to participate is a philosophy Fite has developed through the years.”Usually we try to invite anybody,” she said. “We relax area boundaries so those athletes have more than one competition to compete at. They’ve been practicing for weeks, and they want to show off what they’ve accomplished. It gives them time to shine.”Fite takes that philosophy to the next level in trying to keep athletes’ costs to a minimum.”We try not to charge the athlete anything. That’s unheard of anymore. We really try to stick to that,” she said. According to the Special Olympics Colorado office, persons 8 years and older are eligible if they have developmental disabilities as determined by the localities. Potential athletes have to submit an application of participation, their current medical history and a release form, signed by the athlete’s parent or guardian, to Fite’s office for processing. After the initial check, each individual’s paperwork is forwarded to the state office.Those records are renewable after the first approval every three years.”We try to keep the definition of a developmental disability very wide,” said Fite. “We’d rather accept an athlete than say ‘no.’ We want to give them a chance.”Being in new sports gives younger athletes a chance to excel.Fite sees X-games-type sports like skateboarding and roller blading being offered.”Let’s offer what we can,” she said. “Showshoeing was brought up from this area, and now it’s available throughout the United States.”We got it rolling here, so it’s very possible to start as grass roots as we are and that (sport) could be up there. I say let’s do what we can to give (the athletes) what they want.” As more sports and athletes come in, Fite plans to be in on the ground floor.”This actually developed into a dream job for me. I love it. It’s incredible. It never gets boring because there are so many different things I get to do. Each area’s neat as are the people I get to meet. It’s such a pleasure.”
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