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Some Winter Fun for Everyone

Special Olympics Winter Games Embrace Chilly Weather

  • Tim Larson, of Lebanon, lays in the snow after competing in alpine skiing during the Winter Special Olympics at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme, yesterday. “I’m sleeping!” he joked. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Tim Larson, of Lebanon, lays in the snow after competing in alpine skiing during the Winter Special Olympics at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme, yesterday. “I’m sleeping!” he joked. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tristan “Twister” Geoffrey bear-hugs Shaun O’Keefe, Lyme Chief of Police after receiving his first-place medal for alpine skiing during the Special Olympics Winter Games at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Tristan “Twister” Geoffrey bear-hugs Shaun O’Keefe, Lyme Chief of Police after receiving his first-place medal for alpine skiing during the Special Olympics Winter Games at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gary Polly of North Conway, N.H., center right, laughs and jokes with friends after competing in alpine skiing. Polly placed first in the giant slalom.<br/> (Valley News - Libby March)

    Gary Polly of North Conway, N.H., center right, laughs and jokes with friends after competing in alpine skiing. Polly placed first in the giant slalom.
    (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ava Crompton, 15, of Lancaster, N.H., relaxes during down time at the Special Olympics at the Dartmouth Skiway. Crompton won  three ribbons for her efforts in three snowshoe races. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Ava Crompton, 15, of Lancaster, N.H., relaxes during down time at the Special Olympics at the Dartmouth Skiway. Crompton won three ribbons for her efforts in three snowshoe races. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gary Polly of North Conway, N.H. competes during the Winter Special Olympics at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Gary Polly of North Conway, N.H. competes during the Winter Special Olympics at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tim Larson, of Lebanon, lays in the snow after competing in alpine skiing during the Winter Special Olympics at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme, yesterday. “I’m sleeping!” he joked. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Tristan “Twister” Geoffrey bear-hugs Shaun O’Keefe, Lyme Chief of Police after receiving his first-place medal for alpine skiing during the Special Olympics Winter Games at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Gary Polly of North Conway, N.H., center right, laughs and jokes with friends after competing in alpine skiing. Polly placed first in the giant slalom.<br/> (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Ava Crompton, 15, of Lancaster, N.H., relaxes during down time at the Special Olympics at the Dartmouth Skiway. Crompton won  three ribbons for her efforts in three snowshoe races. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Gary Polly of North Conway, N.H. competes during the Winter Special Olympics at Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme. (Valley News - Libby March)

Lyme — Cold temperatures, hot performances — it’s what the Upper Valley Special Olympics Winter Games are all about.

The event is in its 11th year of uniting adaptive sports programs from throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. Yesterday, 85 athletes from eight teams braved freezing conditions for a day of snowshoe, ski and snowboard racing at Dartmouth Skiway.

Founded in 2003 by Dartmouth College alumnus Pete Bleyler, the Upper Valley Special Olympics unite teams from the Twin States.

The event gives athletes with developmental and cognitive disorders a taste of winter sports competition, all the while serving as a primer for next month’s state Special Olympics Games. On March 2, the New Hampshire Winter Games take place at Waterville Valley Resort; the Vermont Games are scheduled for the following weekend at South Pomfret’s Suicide Six Ski Area.

The 85 athletes on hand constituted a low turnout for the event, which normally draws upward of 120, according to first-year director Jim Beattie. Normally held the final Saturday in January, yesterday’s games were bumped back one week because of a scheduling conflict.

That change pushed the event to coincide with the Penguin Plunge fundraiser in Burlington, where volunteers lunge into the frigid waters of Lake Champlain to raise money for Special Olympics Vermont. The Granite State version of the fundraiser is today in Hampton Beach, N.H., as volunteers jump into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Those are really big fundraisers, so it might have (helped cause the low turnout),” said Beattie, a Hanover resident and former pitcher for Dartmouth College and two Major League Baseball teams. “There’s no way to really tell, but I know they normally have had more.”

Those who were on hand had plenty of fun. An opening ceremony introduced all eight teams, including outfits based in White River Junction (the Upper Valley Hawks), Fairlee (the Rivendell Raptors), Woodsville and Claremont.

The Rockapellas, Dartmouth College’s women’s a capella singing group, followed with the national anthem before a brief keynote speech from Hanover resident Tiger Shaw, a two-time Olympian who spent seven years on the U.S. national team.

Hawks’ snowshoe runner Miranda Hutchins, of Enfield, joined Shaw in reciting the Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

A torch-lighting ceremony featured the Hawks’ Jenny Mayfield, who skied down a slope torch-in-hand accompanied by Lyme Police Chief Shaun O’Keefe.

“If you love skiing and winter sports, this is a great event,” Beattie said. “Dartmouth Skiway is very generous to give us the space and the (athletes) are all excited about it.”

The Winter Games are just one of an array of sports activities from most of the team on hand, many of which regularly swim and hold tournaments for basketball and bowling — and that’s just in the winter time.

In addition to those activities, the Claremont Cool Cats organize track and field, bocci and other competitions during the warm months.

“It’s essentially a year-round thing for us,” said second-year Cool Cats coach Trish Lemieux, of Claremont. “The athletes we have are very talented and very active. ... It’s the look on their faces that keeps me into it. You see them smile, you see the look of accomplishment on their faces and all the time effort (on the part of coaches and volunteers) is worth it.”

The Woodsville team, led for the 13th consecutive year by co-coaches Jim and Shirley Ingerson, of Lisbon, N.H., brought just three athletes yesterday but hopes to increase participation in future winters with the lure of additional sports.

“We’ve had as many as 11 athletes in the past,” Jim Ingerson said.

Added Shirley: “We’re looking into adding bowling and basketball, but even just having (the Winter Games) is great. A lot of these guys have never been involved in a competition before, haven’t felt that sense of achievement. When we go to (the New Hampshire Games at Waterville Valley), we stay overnight and for a lot of (the athletes), it’s the first time they’ve spent the night away from home.”

The Rivendell Raptors brought a pair of snowshoe racers and four snowboarders to yesterday’s Games. Three of those snowboarders were trying the sport for the first time.

“You’d be surprised how well they take to new things,” said Rivendell coach Sara Rose, an elementary school teacher at Samuel Morey Elementary School in Fairlee. “They love getting out there.”

Volunteers included members of the Hanover High girls hockey team, an annual Marauders tradition.

Hanover players guided snowshoe racers to the starting line, timed the races and formed a “human tunnel” for athletes to exit the finish area by making lining up on either side of the exit.

“In the past, we’ve done it with the Dartmouth women’s basketball team,” Hanover coach John Dodds said. “That makes it easier for (Special Olympics athletes) to find the tunnel, because those players are so tall.”

Big Green football player Dan Gorman, a freshman who starred as a wide receiver at Hanover High, volunteered as a “team ambassador” for the Hawks along with Brett Losen, a Dartmouth junior. Despite the frosty temperatures, Gorman was excited to lend a hand.

“(The Upper Valley Special Olympics) are something I’d always known about and remember the girls hockey team coming here,” Gorman said. “I got an email asking for volunteers and signed up right away.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.