Special Olympians compete | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Special Olympians compete

Sarah Gonser

Patiently waiting under a red-and-white striped tent for heat assignments, some 70 athletes joked, threw snow at each other and sipped lukewarm hot chocolate. About 50 volunteers and coaches mulled around, reminding the athletes to use the rest room and keep out of the way of passing skiers.

Waiting one hour for paperwork, while fresh powder slopes beckon in the background, could make a lot of people pretty cranky. But not this crowd – most of them seemed pretty pleased just to be there.

The Northern California Special Olympics, the culmination of the Special Olympics Northern California Winter Sports season, brought approximately 300 Northern California and Nevada athletes and coaches to Kirkwood Ski Resort.

Because Monday’s opening ceremonies and Tuesday’s competition were canceled due to bad weather, organizers crunched several events into Wednesday.

“Everything is being squished together because of the foul weather,” said Suzanne Joy, parent and Team Tahoe alpine coach. “The good thing about this event is that our athletes are heated against athletes of similar ability from different counties. It’s a lot more challenging than just racing with your own team, and they make a lot of friends.”

The Winter Special Olympics, which include both Alpine and Nordic skiing, are restricted to athletes with a minimum of eight weeks prior training. The eight Team Tahoe athletes have been practicing at Sierra-at-Tahoe since January.

“Our team gets a really good deal from Sierra so we train every Sunday,” Joy said. “It’s such an incredibly rewarding experience to work with these athletes in a healthy environment, building teams and helping them learn social skills. I’ve grown so much from this experience and so has my daughter.”

Volunteers readily admit the training is about a lot more than acquiring athletic skills.

“These athletes are learning coordination and balance,” said Carmen Delgel, a parent who has volunteered with Team Tahoe seven years. “But above and beyond that, they get a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. It’s extremely rewarding.”

In April, while snow still covers much of the Basin, Team Tahoe will be preparing for the track and field and swimming competitions at the Summer Special Olympics.

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