"Going to these events is a great opportunity for these kids to be together and be part of a team," said Mary West, special needs teacher at Montrose High School and Montrose Special Olympics Team volunteer. "The experience of going on an overnight trip without mom and dad is a huge deal; the Special Olympics is so much about independence and self-esteem."
West accompanied TASP instructors Jamie Fuller and Matt Leibfried to the Sunlight Ski Area near Glenwood Springs with TASP-trained athletes from Montrose, Cortez and Telluride. Telluride's Bradley Jones, a TASP team member for the last two years, brought home the team's highest honors, finishing in first place in his division for both slalom and giant slalom races.
"He's one of the best skiers on our team," said coach Fuller. "He has been so focused on his training leading up to this event. His turns are as good as ones you see in the regular Olympics." Jones's father, Don Jones, said the Special Olympics experience was unmatched by any other for his son and fellow competitors. "The best part is getting to see how incredibly excited these kids are," he said. "It's the highlight of their year to compete in these events and get their trophies."
Fellow TASP team member David Minton also brought home a first place in his division. Montrose Special Olympics team members Jeromy DeJulio and Alfred Valencia followed suit, taking the gold in slalom and giant slalom, respectively.
Montrose snowboard competitors Michael Gordon and Michael Longmore kept pace with their skiing teammates, with Gordon finishing first and Longmore taking second in their respective divisions.
"I don't know how common it was for other teams to have almost all their athletes get a first or second place but a lot of the other coaches were coming up to us and commenting on how great our team did," Fuller said.
A Montrose contingent also participated in the challenging, 1K, four-person relay snowshoe race in Sunlight.
"It was a huge accomplishment that everyone finished the race," West said.
Another TASP satellite team took their talents to the Durango Mountain Resort over the weekend, to compete in that area's Special Olympics events. Longtime TASP skiers Ian Frame, Miranda Wancura and Erica Peters joined TASP instructor Mike Bullock at the Durango event.
"They put in a lot of training for what they felt was the big event," he said, "and everything went just as they had planned."
Frame and Peters both finished with a first-place ribbon, and Wancura took home a second place.
Said Bullock of the Durango Special Olympics event, "It was a very wonderful experience for me after nine years of volunteering with the program, it was my first time to go to the Special Olympics. Just the expressions on all the kids' faces at the end of the day when they received their ribbons was just awesome."
Some TASP athletes are expected to compete at the Colorado Special Olympics State Championships, to be held at Copper Mountain March 26 and 27.
"We have a couple more training days until then," Fuller says, "and our hope is that we'll do as well at States as we did at Regionals."