Special Olympics State Games Come to Town

By Beacon Staff

On Sunday teams of athletes from across Montana blew into Whitefish. Here for the annual state winter Special Olympics, 250 athletes along with 100 coaches arrived to celebrate their accomplishments with the awarding of gold, silver, and bronze.

This year’s games launched Sunday night at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Teams marched with their banners to the bottom of Ed’s Run for opening ceremonies. A torchlight parade lit up the slope, fireworks blasted into the sky, and the traditional Special Olympics torch was lit.

Competitions kicked off Monday morning with preliminary race rounds with family, friends, and coaches cheering. Tuesday features final rounds in all events with medal ceremonies following each. While the beginner, intermediate, and advanced alpine skiers race gates, the cross-country events trek distances – some even longer than the average person can Nordic ski. But you’ll always find a crowd gathered around the snowshoe start. With so many athletes running together with snowshoes flying, the races make for great spectating. “Everyone celebrates the snowshoe events,” laughs Dave Snuggs, vice president of sports and competition for Special Olympics Montana.

To qualify to participate in these Special Olympics Montana Winter Games, the athletes have trained for eight weeks in downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. While they must be at least 8 years old, many are adults. What challenges them is their intellectual disabilities, not necessarily physical limitations.

To make the games happen, 200 volunteers donate their time – on race courses as timers and marshalls, with athletes as ski buddies, at the awards podiums giving out medals and hugs, and behind the scenes. “The actual production is all volunteer-driven,” explains Snuggs. “You don’t even need to be able to ski.”

Special Olympics Montana serves around 2,000 athletes – in basketball tournaments, summer track and field events and winter snow sports. At Special Olympics, pride beams from every athlete, and hugs are thrown around like candy.