Special Olympians shine at Sunlight
Special to the Post Independent
SUNLIGHT MOUNTAIN RESORT” It was hard to tell if it was sunshine or smiles that lit up Sunlight Mountain Resort on Friday.
Special Olympians from all over Colorado came together to compete in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing over the weekend, and man, did everyone have a good time.
“They’re always happy,” said Western Area Winter Games director Rolf Hermanson of the Special Olympians. “They’re great people.”
At the start gate before Friday afternoon’s slalom race, racers and coaches cheered for each other and for their team.
The team from Summit County met at the top of the lift for a group high-five with their ski poles and a group cheer.
Summit County’s cheers started to sound more and more like a pack of wolves at the start gate. One team member counted, “One, two …” and on the count of three the Summit County team stuck out their chins, pursed their lips and let out a collective howl.
“Group howling,” said Special Olympian Vital Larouq of Dillon.
“We have the loudest team,” said Larouq’s step-father and Summit’s head coach, Joe Penaland.
In between group howling, the group had plenty of good-natured insults and wit for whoever happened by.
“Don’t break the camera,” said one coach peering trough the lens of a camera at a group of racers lined up for a picture.
“Watch the skis,” joked one more as his friend tip-toed over his tips.
And when one racer got embarrassed by all the horsing around, he joked, “I don’t know you people.”
Despite the fun and jokes the athletes were serious when it came time to race.
Chris Guay of Vail said he’d done well in earlier races as he stood waiting for his turn in the slalom. When the starter finally said “go” for the slalom, he pushed hard out of the gate and tucked, poles sticking out behind him from under his armpits.
Eric Luebke from Grand Junction was also ready to ski hard, with a helmet, goggles and race bib.
“Race No. 1 went well,” he said during lunch. “I made all the gates very tight.”
Along with the racers crowding the start gate and finish line, coaches, parents and lots of volunteers cheered the racers on.
Denise and Matt Vogel of Rifle took advantage of a volunteer program at work, and took a day off from their jobs at Alpine Bank to volunteer at the Special Olympics.
“I think its great,” said Denise. “I am just here to help out and volunteer. I think it’s a great cause.”
Matt Vogel said a friend of his was racing Friday, and watching him was what initially got him interested in the Special Olympics.
“He’d been pestering me for years to get up and watch him,” said Matt. “I thought, ‘Why not volunteer?'”
The races were competition and all competitors seemed to ski as hard as they could, but no one forgot to have a good time.
“He should get gold,” said coach Jim Finch from Steamboat Springs. His racer, Jeremy Foster was in the gate waiting for the starter’s countdown. “But if he doesn’t, he’ll have done the best he can,” Finch said, smiling.
The Special Olympics Western Area Winter Games were held Friday and Saturday. In addition to the snowboarding and alpine GS and slalom races there was also a dinner and dance on Friday night. Athletes also competed in a cross-country ski competition and snowshoe event on Saturday.
Contact Ryan Graff: 945-8515, ext. 534
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