Surrounded by flags and snowy mountains, a crowd of people from Special Olympics Utah chanted, “Weber State! Weber State! Great, great, great!” after two athletes from Weber State University’s team won silver and bronze metals at the snowshoe race.
The Special Olympics Utah Winter Games were held on Saturday. The games included more than 125 athletes, who competed in winter sports like alpine skiing and snowboarding. The games were held in two locations in the Nordic Valley — North Fork Park in Eden and Powder Mountain Ski Resort.
The closing ceremony was held in the ballrooms of the Shepherd Union Building. The ceremony included dinner and a victory dance, which, according to participants, is the most anticipated event of the games.
Natalie Pruess, the co-director for the WSU team, said this year was her second time volunteering at the games, but her first year as head of delegations.
“The athletes have to have a total of eight practices,” Pruess said. Part of her job is to find volunteers to organize practice. “We’ve been practicing since December.”
Pruess said WSU’s team has 10 athletes, but not all of them are students at WSU. She said she was excited for the closing ceremony because of the dance party.
“All of the athletes love the dance,” Pruess said. “That’s their favorite part. It’s fun to watch them.”
Molly Andreason, an athlete, said she attended the special education program at WSU and is currently on the Special Olympics team.
“Yeah, we bundle and prepare; I’m not even cold,” said Andreason as she wiggled her feet in her snowshoes. “Right now my toes are a little bit cold, (but) I can wiggle them and be warm.”
Andreason said she has been training ever since she got out of high school, and also participates in track and field. She said she loves to watch every sport, but her favorite Olympic sport is swimming.
Students could volunteer for the Special Olympics by going through the Community Involvement Center, which is what freshman Logan Carter did.
“All of them are great sports,” Carter said. “I’m up here right now supporting our Riverdale division. We’re all winners here, and we love it up here.”
Carter said he needed volunteer hours for a class, and the CIC placed him with Special Olympics Utah. He said each event has several divisions and different races. Carter stayed at the sidelines of the snowshoe track and cheered on WSU’s team.
Another athlete from WSU’s team, Jason James, won the bronze metal in his division for the snowshoe race. He said snowshoeing was hard because he had to lift up his legs really high. James said he was really good friends with his coaches and loves to play soccer in the spring.
“It gives my legs a workout,” he said. He said his favorite part of the winter games was the exercise. “It keeps me fit.”
According to a press release, Special Olympics Utah serves more than 2,300 athletes with intellectual disabilities. Its mission is to provide year-round sports training and competitions for adults and children with mental disabilities. Its website said it gives them “opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts and skills with families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”