The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are in full swing in Sochi. If you didn’t go to Sochi, your chance to see Olympians is not gone. As US athletes participate in various competitions abroad, a group of truly amazing athletes will be participating in our area.
Special Olympics of Pennsylvania will be returning to the Johnstown area this week for the 13th consecutive year as they hold their 2014 Winter Games. There will over 300 athletes competing this year with 150 coaches from throughout Pennsylvania including Cambria and Somerset Counties. There will also be athletes from Maryland, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Delaware. Last year there were over 1000 volunteers that came out to help during the three day event. In a press release, Mike Ermer, SOPA’s Associate Competition Director – West said, “We are excited to return to the Johnstown area for the 13th consecutive year. We appreciate the support we have received from Lesley Meyer, our Winter Games Event Director, and our dedicated Winter Games Committee. They have worked for months to make this event a memorable one for our athletes and families.”
Special Olympics was created to provide an opportunity for children and adults with intellectual disabilities to participate in Olympic type sports. Pennsylvania’s chapter was officially recognized in 1970. The vision of Special Olympics is a world where everyone is accepted and valued regardless of their abilities or disabilities. The individual athletes that compete are provided with free training which gives them a chance to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience the joy of competition and achievement. It is a life changing opportunity for both the athletes and volunteers. There are competitions in 22 Olympic-type events throughout the year. Pennsylvania’s Chapter provides support to more than 20,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities or closely related developmental disabilities.
The winter games visit several locations throughout the region. The events kick off tonight with the opening ceremonies in Johnstown’s Central Park. The opening ceremonies begin at 6:30 and will last about an hour. Spectators are welcome to attend any of the public events and competitions to support and cheer on the athletes. The competitions take place on Monday, February 10 and Tuesday February 11 at one of four different venues. For a full detailed schedule of activities, please check out the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania website.
Figure skating and dance compulsories take place at The Cambria County War Memorial Arena. Preliminary competitions will take place on Monday from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The finals will take place on Tuesday from 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. with the awards ceremony immediately following the competition.
Planet Ice in Richland will host the speed skating competitions. Preliminary events take place throughout the day on Monday beginning at 9:30 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Tuesday will be the speed skating finals beginning at 9:30 a.m. The awards ceremony will take place immediately following the competitions and should wrap up by 3:30 p.m.
Athletes taking part in cross country skiing and snowshoe events will head for Blue Knob All Seasons Resort. Competitions take place at the cross country ski area (golf course) beginning at 9:30 a.m. through 2:30 p.m. There will be a mix of preliminary and final events throughout the day. Tuesday will see the finals from 9:15 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. with the awards ceremony following the competitions.
Athletes participating in the Alpine events will be traveling to Hidden Valley Ski Resort. The giant slalom time trials take place beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Monday with the finals taking place beginning at 1:30 p.m. The Alpine entry level time trials take place on Monday from 1:30 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. with the finals taking place on Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. The Super G finals take place on Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. and the slalom finals from 11:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Awards ceremonies will follow each of the events at the resort.
It is not all competition for the athletes. The athletes are treated to a victory dance at Richland High School on Monday night. At the dance, for the eighth year in a row Special Olympics Pennsylvania will present the Winter Games Spirit Award, which will acknowledge the outstanding energy, determination and enthusiasm of a Winter Games athlete. The awardee will be chosen by a select group of Winter Games committee members.
The Special Olympics exists with the help of sponsors and private donations. This year’s major sponsors for the winter games are Sheetz Inc., UPMC, and The Jack Buncher Foundation. Another big fund raiser are the Polar Plunges throughout the state. The Laurel Highlands Polar Plunge took place on Saturday, February 8 at the Quemahoning Reservoir. This is an annual event which usually takes place the Saturday before the beginning of competition. Special Olympics of Pennsylvania also accepts other private donations throughout the year.
So if you are looking for something to do on Monday and Tuesday, come out and cheer on these athletes and let them lift your spirits with their determination and the pure thrill of having fun competing.