Crested Butte sent two Olympians to compete in Sochi, and five more Gunnison Valley athletes will represent the area for the first time in the regional Special Olympic winter games at Ski Cooper on Friday, February 14.
The fab five have been training every Sunday and Wednesday and are part of the Adaptive Sports Center racing team, officially named the Adaptive Allstars Racing Team. The Wednesday group formed since some couldn’t make the Sunday practices, and they’ve dubbed themselves the Powder Posse.
The training takes place on the Crested Butte Mountain Resort slopes. Elise Meiers, head coach of the race team and Adaptive volunteer, says the idea to start up a winter training program for the Special Olympics formed after she went to the 2012 Summer Olympics state meet in Greeley with Six Points. “They had such a good time, they loved training and then going to the Olympics—they were so excited to compete against other people,” Meiers said.
Meiers has been skiing with the team for nine years. Competing this year are skiers Alex Bittle, Jeff Crawley, Ron Fickling, and John Ingenio. Joe Day is the lone snowboarder shredding this year.
Meiers says some of the athletes have been on the slopes for 20 years, some for a decade, and one is new to the sport. “They do very well. Alex and Joe will be in the advanced races and the rest are intermediate,” she says and adds, “They’re all going to compete in the Super G and Giant Slalom. Ron will be in a sit-ski competition.”
Day and Bittle live in Crested Butte while Crawley, Fickling and Ingenio are from Gunnison.
“Woody Lindenmeyer of Mountain Sports donated gates so that the guys could practice the same way that a real race would be run,” Meiers says appreciatively.
Adaptive Sports provides the only races in the area for people with special needs. Meiers explains, “All of Adaptive’s ski programs are geared toward people with special needs, whether they’re intellectually or physically disabled. We have programs for burn survivors, wounded warriors, ladies’ camp, and kids’ camp, for people who come from different schools from all over,” she says of just some of their programs.
To qualify for the Special Olympics, a person must have an intellectual disability as opposed to a physical disability only. The race team goes out with an instructor to work on basic skills. “We get them to be better skiers and work on new terrain,” Meiers says. “We work on getting them to be more advanced in their skiing and more independent. It’s a fun group to be with,” she smiles.
On Thursday, the team leaves for Leadville, where they’ll start off with the opening ceremonies and a much anticipated dance. Then the regional Special Olympics games start Friday at Ski Cooper. The state winter Special Olympics competitions will be held in March at Copper Mountain but the team won’t be attending those this year, although Adaptive hopes they can raise the funds to send a team next year. Meiers explains that this is the pilot year.
“Just being in the regionals automatically qualifies you for state but the regional event wasn’t even in our budget. It’s a brand new program that we’re hoping to develop. We’re asking for donations for the race team and for training for the Special Olympics Adaptive Allstars Race Team.”
Adaptive wants to see more people sign up for training for the race team. Meiers says they would eventually like to be able to open the program to community kids who are interested in being on the team and competing in the Special Olympics, in addition to the adults. Adaptive Sports runs a program for the approximately 27 special-needs Gunnison school district kids.
Meiers is thrilled for the Adaptive Allstars Race Team as she witnesses their excitement as the competition day approaches. “We all know that recreation is a good therapy so on top of that aspect they get to compete with people who they wouldn’t normally get to meet. I think the program has gone great so far. It’s been really fun but now they have a focus, they have a goal of winning a gold medal. I think it gives them this validity and something to look forward to. They step it up a little bit more. I have so much hope for this program and what it could turn into. It takes them outside of Crested Butte to places they’ve never been before and terrain they’ve never skied before.”
Meiers also points out that the outside exposure will make people aware of Adaptive Sports’ programs in Crested Butte and alert them that they can come here to participate.
Organizing the logistics, communications and funding for the event is Maggie Burke, Adaptive Sports Center’s development coordinator, who says, “It’s a program that we really love because it meets the Adaptive Center mission, to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities through outdoor adventure activities. So giving these guys the opportunity to race and have something to work toward in skiing makes it more than just going out and skiing for fun.”
Burke explains that money donated to the team goes toward the cost of training, transportation, lodging, food and the many expenses that are part of that program. Although the regional comps bring in athletes from all over the state, Burke says unequivocally, “Of course our team is going do awesome.”
These same team members also volunteer to do things all over the community. Burke says that the ASC wants the program to be sustainable. Adaptive runs both winter activities and summer camps for kindergarten through sixth grade, for disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to autism to learning and physical disabilities.
“We have all these incredible programs we’re raising money for and this community just blows me away. People are so generous here, it’s amazing,” Burke says. “From part-time residents to the locals… I could go on and on about what a difference the community makes to Adaptive Sports. For the Adaptive Allstars Racing Team to compete on an equal playing field is a wonderful opportunity. It’s going to be awesome. They’ve been working hard!”
For more information about Adaptive Sports Center’s programs, or better yet, if you’d like to donate to the Adaptive Allstars Racing Team for the Special Olympics, go to adaptivesports.org, click on the Purpose Box: Race Team, or send a check, or you can even call with a credit card, (970) 349-5075.