“I’m ready for it”
by Than Acuff
The Adaptive Sports Center (ASC) has been working together with six athletes from Six Points in Gunnison all winter as they prepare for the 2020 Western and Southeast Regional Winter Games in Leadville on Thursday, February 6.
Alex Bittle, Jeff Crawley, Joe Day, Eric Fullmer, Ricky Glatiotis and John “Johnny Bling” Inigeo have been putting in the time on skis to prepare for the upcoming competition, with most taking it to the Nordic track. Fullmer will compete in alpine races.
ASC internship and logistics coordinator Richard Paylor has been involved in the Special Olympics program before and says this isn’t the first time for a lot of these guys.
“It’s been going on for at least the past five years, maybe even longer than that,” says Paylor.
Dayna Regan took over the reins this season from Paylor and is in charge of ASC community programming. She attended the event last year and recalls one race in particular that stood out.
“Last year John had a tight race in the 10k and it was cool to see him push himself,” says Regan.
In addition to ASC instructors, Six Points Supported Living Service manager Brian Smith has been working with the athletes in their training. He spends summers preparing them for the summer games and has been taking them out on the Nordic tracks in Crested Butte as well as a track on the Dos Rios golf course in Gunnison.
All of their hard work will now be put to the test this week at Ski Cooper and on Tennessee Pass. Both Crawley and Glatiotis were out on the Nordic track this past Sunday putting the finishing touches on their training. Crawley competed in the alpine events last year but switched to the flat track for this season.
“I wanted to do more cross country and have more experiences,” says Crawley. “I’m more of a downhiller but switched to do more cross country skiing. Also, Johnny and Ricky convinced me to.”
Regan echoed that sentiment, explaining that while several raced in the alpine events last year, all but one turned to the Nordic events this year.
“Ricky and John kind of convinced a lot of the guys to race Nordic this year,” says Regan. “Eric really enjoys the downhill so he’s sticking with that.”
While Fullmer will be pointing it down the mountain at Ski Cooper in the Super G and Giant Slalom, the other five skiers will be competing in a variety of distances on Tennessee Pass. Bittle will line up for the 100-meter, 500-meter and 1-kilometer unified race while Crawley will test his top end speed and endurance in the 500-meter race and the 7.5-kilometer race.
“I’m ready for it,” says Crawley. “It’s all about pacing, looking ahead and trying to do my best, go out there and have fun and cheer everyone on.”
Glatiotis raced in the 25- and 50-meter races last year but has stepped up this year to compete in the 25-meter and 500-meter events.
“He’s been training hard so he’s doing a longer race this year,” says Regan.
“It’s going good and I’m feeling strong,” says Glatiotis. “I’m going to do better this year.”
Meanwhile, Day and Inigeo are taking it to the next level. Both will be lining up for the five-kilometer and 10-kilometer Nordic races, with not a whole lot of time in between the two events.
“They’re doing both in the same day and probably within an hour of each other,” says Regan. “These days John is putting in a time of 32 minutes in the five-kilometer.”
Regan adds that John, known for his penchant for bling, wears it even in the races.
The regionals are more than just about the races and the awards, though. While there is one day of competition, the event is actually spread over two days, with an opening ceremony complete with the lighting of the cauldron and a dance the night before.
Once the times are tallied and documented from regionals, the six skiers will then get seeded for the state games held at Copper February 22-23.
What happens after that is really up in the air. All six athletes have work, so finding time off to move on to a national or even the world Special Olympics event is tough to make happen.
“There is a chance to get invited to Worlds depending on their times,” says Regan. “But, I think they work too much to make it there, they’re just too busy. They have a ton of fun at these two events, the camaraderie of the events and living in the moment of these two events.”