All Olympians are special. Some are a bit more special than most. This past week our community hosted the entire United States Winter Special Olympics Team and the Canadian Special Olympics Floor Hockey Team to help them get ready for the upcoming World Championships that will be held later this winter in the Republic of Korea.
"My favorite experience has been the skiing and getting our uniforms," said Emily Stephen, a member of the US Special Olympics Alpine Ski Team. "I never thought in a million years I'd be going to Korea and representing the United States. Never in my wildest dreams!"
Athletes and coaches from both countries expressed that level of unabashed enthusiasm throughout their stay. The Special Olympics is the largest sports organization in the world for people living with intellectual disabilities including over 4 million athletes from over 170 countries. The Special Olympics began in the early 1960's through the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of the late president John F. Kennedy and Senators Ted and Robert Kennedy. She grew up with a sister Rosemary who had an intellectual disability. She believed, based on her own experience with her sister, that people living with intellectual disabilities could do far more and have a far more meaningful life if given the opportunity.
A group of Special Olympians at the Olympic Museum in Lake Placid.
Photo/Naj Wikoff/Lake Placid News
That belief in the potential of people like her sister lead her to start in 1962 a sports-oriented camp in her own back yard for people living with intellectual disabilities called "Camp Shriver." A few years later the first International Special Olympics Games was held in Chicago demonstrating that people living with health challenges could reach their human potential through sport.
"We were contacted by the Special Olympics last spring about potentially hosting this event," said ORDA Senior Vice President Jeff Byrne. "We had hosted a Special Olympics training camp in 1996 before the 1967 World's, but that was not for the whole team as is here today. Their last two camps were held in Cooper Mountain, CO. This time they brought the whole entourage plus two teams from Canada. It's been a good experience for us. We have educated our staff about the Special Olympics and what we have to do to best support them. We have had good community volunteer support that is working with each sport. Their athletes will receive two and a half days of training and get a good idea of what to expect and what they have do to prepare for when they are competing in Korea. A lot of kudos must go the Special Olympics staff and coaches. They are a great group. I think they would love to come back and we'd love to have them return."
"Being in Lake Placid provides the athletes and coaches a chance to meet and connect with their counterparts in the other sports," said Craig Pippert, the US Special Olympics Senior Manger of Sports Development. "The training helps us make sure they are competing at their right level and the participation by the Canadians provides them the experience of competing internationally. Being here enables them to be a part in the history and hospitality of Lake Placid; all the unique assets that makes Lake Placid Lake Placid. It has been going very well. The only challenges we have had are those we have no control over, the weather. This has been a great opportunity. We'd love to come back."
"This has been a tremendous experience," said John Moore, the Ontario (Canada East) Associate Coach for Floor Hockey. "The people of Lake Placid have been gracious hosts."
"This has enabled our athletes the opportunity to compete outside Canada and get some international exposure," said Jennifer Campbell, the Head of the Canadian Special Olympics delegation. "Lake Placid is a great place to come to and we look forward to working even closer with the US delegation going forward. It is a great opportunity for our coaches to work with the American coaches and for us to learn from each other. Lake Placid is a terrific location for us as it is so close to Montreal and our coaches and athletes have a long tradition of training and competing here."
"I have been skating since I was five," said US Special Olympian athlete Katie Carter. "This is my first time in Lake Placid. The experience has been going very well. One of my coaches from home, Tappy, was nominated to coach for Team USA. I love being able to jump and spin around on skates. I just have fun doing it. I went to the Winter Games in Anchorage when I was 11. I won a gold medal. I love being able to skate every day in Lake Placid and make new friends."
"I have been coaching Special Olympics skaters since 2005," said Leslie Kelley. "I like helping these athletes achieve their dreams and improve their skills. People will often say that people living with intellectual abilities can't do this or that, and I say, 'Don't say that. They can achieve their dreams just like any other person.' These athletes here prove that they can."
"The facilities are outstanding, the volunteers extremely helpful and the community has been very supportive," said Chris Hahn, head of the Team USA delegation. "The history of winter sports in Lake Placid is second to none. For a track athlete it would be like going Athens for the Summer Games. There is an aura about these facilities. Participating in the Special Olympics is life changing for our athletes. It can really improve their quality of life. I get a great sense of satisfaction, even though my part is very small. I am very proud about that."
"We met here," said skier Kelley McCormick about Lisa Robinson. "She is my new best friend. We are having lots of fun."
"It's awesome," said Lisa.
"They have become fast friends," said their coach Deborah Phillips. "That's what so great about the Special Olympics. They become one family. They cheer each other on. They are only competitive with themselves. There is no pressure on them. For them being here is a sheer joy. They appreciate being here, being able to make friends and being able to ski so much."
"I am from Florida," said skier Kerri Lynn Leonardo. "We train on the beach with boots and skis, and in an arena on ice. It's fun being on snow. It's good once in a lifetime but I wouldn't want to live with snow all the time."
"Thank you for sharing your wonderful town with us," said skier Emily Stephen.
The Special Olympics athletes and teams can be followed at www.specialolympics.org.