Special Olympics competitors take to the snow | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Special Olympics competitors take to the snow

Jill Darby

Proud smiles and excited laughter seemed contagious Wednesday at the Special Olympics competition at Camp Richardson.

With volunteers and spectators looking on, more than 15 Special Olympics teams raced for the gold in cross country skiing and snowshoeing events. Downhill events were held Tuesday and Wednesday at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

Judy Cotter, head snowshoe coach for Team Tahoe, said Special Olympics is important for many reasons.

“It’s multi-fold,” she said. “The confidence element is definitely a big one. It’s also giving these athletes lifelong fitness. Many of these guys would not have the opportunity to be involved in anything fitness-wise if it wasn’t for this. It’s a social thing as well. They really look forward to seeing friends from other teams at the meets.”

Team Tahoe is made up of about 50 athletes who participate year-round in meets throughout California.

“It’s great doing Special Olympics,” said 22-year-old Melissa Ahrens, who took first place in the 200-meter snowshoe finals. “It’s very fun for me. I like singing and acting and now this gives me a chance to be outside and to win a medal.”

Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to first, second and third place winners, but all athletes received certificates of recognition.

“Everybody gets an award,” Cotter said. “That’s one of the important things about Special Olympics. Everyone wins.”

Jan Capetty, regional sports director for the Northern California Special Olympics, said volunteers as well as athletes benefit from being part of Special Olympics.

“This gives athletes who would normally be sitting on the bench watching, the opportunity to be a true participant, a true athlete,” Capetty said. “It gets them out of their shell and they realize what they’re capable of. But one of my favorite components is to watch the volunteers. They get so excited and they do such a wonderful job.”

Capetty complimented the community of South Lake Tahoe for its continual support of Special Olympics.

“The South Lake Tahoe community has been phenomenal to us,” she said. “They have absolutely wrapped us in their arms and really embraced the event and the athletes and Camp Richardson, well I just can’t say enough.”

Nineteen-year-old T.J. Loetscher also won a medal for the 200-meter snowshoe competition.

“It was fun, kind of hard but fun,” Loetscher said. “It’s the most fun when we get to have a medal.”

BREAKOUT: Team Tahoe and other Special Olympics teams function solely on private donations and volunteer work. Anyone interested in making a monetary donation or volunteering time to Special Olympics should contact the South Lake Tahoe office at (530) 542-4126 or the regional office at (916) 920-2950.

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