by Madison V. Fisler
Jan. 3, 2014. Next week, more than 100 athletes will be taking the slopes for a beloved annual competition held at Appalachian Ski Mtn. These athletes will be competing for coveted titles and leaving it all out on the slopes. But this isn’t just a regular ski and snowboard competition, this one is special.
The opening ceremonies will kick off on Sunday, Jan. 5 at 1:45 p.m. at the French Swiss Ski College, along with a dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the Meadowbrook Inn in Blowing Rock where Special Olympic NC will present the 2013 Special Olympics NC Athlete of the Year award.
The competition will commence on Monday, with competitors leaving it all on the slopes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nearly 140 special athletes and coaches will participate in the competition this year.
The French Swiss Ski College at Appalachian Ski Mtn has hosted this portion of the NC Special Olympics since 1978.
“In 1977, the first games were being conducted in Springboat Springs, Colorado,” said Jim Cottrell, head of ski patrol at Appalachian Ski Mtn and a skiing instructor at the French Swiss Ski College.
“I met the state coordinator at a convention and learned that at that time, athletes had no training, so we volunteered to offer a training program for the first winter games. We got together with the NC head of Special Olympics and we created the Southeast Region Special Olympic Games here at Appalachian Ski Mountain. And we were the first to do it. Over the next three years, we had about 300 athletes per year come through for the regional games. We literally wrote the manual for how to do this, and we are now the model program for programs all over the world.”
All instruction for the games is conducted by the French Swiss Ski College, with support from the athletes’ coaches.
“We have been doing this for a very long time, and this is really a group of individuals who really appreciate what you are doing for them,” Cottrell said.
“The intrinsic reward of working with people who truly appreciate your efforts, there’s nothing like it. It doesn’t have anything to do with money, you just feel good about it and that’s why we do it. We learn so much from the athletes, and we model our programs for the public after our programs for the special athletes. We learned that if we work with people with disabilities, we can help everyone. You may be a doctor, or a big lawyer, but when you are on that slope for the first time, they need special help too. That is the backbone of our program here: to treat everyone special.”
The Special Olympics being held next week are still in need of volunteers as well.
“Part of our mission is to get people comfortable with persons with intellectual disabilities. Anyone who comes out, whether they cheer or assist, everyone is welcome!” Cottrell said.
“What a volunteer will do is dependent on what they are capable of doing because we have a lot of athletes that need a lot of one on one attention, so we need a good bit of help with that. We also need spectators and cheerleaders. You can be as involved as you want to. Volunteers should come with appropriate outdoor clothing and winter boots, and you can just come to Appalachian Ski Mountain and check in at the volunteer station, no preregistration necessary!”
Volunteers are needed from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Monday.
“We can’t wait for the event,” Cottrell said.
“It’s good for us, it’s good for the athletes and it’s great for the community. We hope to see lots of people out there.”