Winter sports heats up with upcoming qualifiers |

Winter sports heats up with upcoming qualifiers

Twenty South Shore athletes hope to seize that one grandest moment in time next month when they compete with 180 other athletes in the Northeast Regional Winter Games.

The event is a qualifier for the Special Olympics Northern California state championship, which is hosted by Kirkwood Mountain Resort in March.

Janelle Johnson will return to the slopes Feb. 11-12 to race downhill at Heavenly Ski Resort. The 25-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman said she feels strong and capable, entering the height of the training season.

Johnson has competed in Special Olympics events for 17 years, gaining much of her inspiration from one notable downhill racer who’s lived up to the pressure of whizzing through Olympic gates — Picabo Street.

“I’m inspired by her because she’s gone through a lot of obstacles,” said Johnson, who excels in the giant slalom.

She won a silver medal last year in the state championships.

The Safeway grocery clerk acknowledged that in competition one never knows the outcome from one day to the next.

Competitors in the Special Olympics have varying developmental disabilities and come from a region as far north as the Oregon border south to Fresno.

Johnson enjoys the camaraderie from seeing her teammates and friends accomplish their goals.

Michael Cotter, another teammate who raked in gold, silver and bronze medals last year at the state Winter Games, said he’s in great shape for his downhill ski events, too. Beyond Alpine skiing, Cotter — a cafeteria worker at the South Lake Tahoe Senior Center — builds his endurance by going on snowshoeing excursions.

Heavenly will host a slew of winter sporting events, which range from Alpine and snowboarding to cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The latter events will be staged at Camp Richardson Resort. Alpine skiing events are broken down by downhill, giant slalom and slalom.

Snowshoeing celebrates its second year and snowboarding its third as Special Olympic contests.

Opening ceremonies will kick off at the Horizon Casino’s Tamarack Room at 8:15 p.m. on Feb. 11, the day of time trials. The ceremony is free to the public.

“We encourage the public to come out and support our athletes,” said Jody Filgo, area director.

Filgo said the event still needs volunteers to help with awards presentation, chairlift escorting and course monitoring. Those who are interested may contact Filgo at (530) 542-4126.

With donations dropping by about 10 percent this year, Filgo urged others who want to offer funding support may call or send money to Special Olympics, Team Tahoe, P.O. Box 18055, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96151.

The two-day event is co-sponsored by the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

“We are thrilled o be involved with such a worthwhile event like the Special Olympics,” Heavenly spokeswoman Molly Cuffe said.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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