Southeast SO skiers

Avery County ski representative Katie Holdcroft and her competitor, Sean Kennedy from Mecklenburg County. Holdcroft was the lone participant from Avery County. Kennedy earned the gold medal and Holdcroft took home silver, with less than one-half second separating their finishes.

HIGH COUNTRY — The Southeast Regional Ski & Snowboarding competition was held on Feb. 2 to 4 at the Appalachian Ski Mtn. in Blowing Rock. Sponsored by Special Olympics North America, nearly 140 athletes from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina were invited to showcase their skills in events on the snow.

The Opening Ceremony took place outside, on and below the deck of the Appalachian Ski Mtn. lodge. Each delegation was welcomed amidst loud cheers before the singing of our National Anthem and the Invocation. As is the tradition, the coaches, volunteers, and athletes recited their oaths. Athletes declare: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” With the assistance of law enforcement (large supporters of Special Olympics) the Olympic torch was lit and the 2020 Southeast Regional Winter Games were declared “Open.”

The three-day event began with assessment of individual skills by the French Swiss Ski College Instructors on Sunday, Feb. 2. This led to the athletes being evaluated and placed in the correct level of skiing or boarding and ultimately into their divisions for each event.

Alpine skiing levels are divided as follows: Black (advanced terrain), Blue (intermediate terrain), Green (novice terrain) and several levels of Yellow (beginner or slight slope terrain). Each athlete wore their own racing bib that indicated their name, program, number and level designation worn throughout the competition.

Following the assessment and instruction on Sunday, athletes in the Blue and Black divisions had time trials on Monday morning, Feb. 3, and some competition on Monday afternoon, with awards following. At the Green and Yellow levels, more instruction and practice in the morning was followed by time trials in the afternoon. The meet officials then used this information to place athletes in the correct division. The competition then took place on Tuesday morning, followed by awards.

A great many volunteers make all this possible, from assisting the athletes on the snow to helping to manage the volume of equipment from day-to-day. At the conclusion of skiing or boarding for each day, athletes brought their equipment to a specific area for overnight storage. Volunteers took charge of the skis/boards, helmets and boots for each athlete, and then took all the skis and boards outside in the morning to the Special Olympics ski corral. Athletes claimed boots and helmets, dressed for the outside and then claimed their equipment.

A clever system allows this to happen: masking tape with each individual’s bib number are placed on the athletes helmet, their boots and their skis. Thus identification of the athlete and equipment must match in order for each competitor to take their place at the starting gate.

Volunteers also helped with keeping track of athletes in each division, making sure that they stayed together, and were then ready to approach the awards ceremony. Each individual division was called to the podium with a Special Olympics backdrop, and music from the Olympics being played. Athletes are announced by name with their award then being presented. Medals were earned for first place (gold), second place (silver) and third place (bronze), with ribbons for placing beyond that.

A highlight of the festivities every year is the banquet and dance on Monday evening held at the Meadowbrook Inn in Blowing Rock, where some of the delegations are housed.

Although the weather wasn’t an indicator of the “winter season” – temperatures were in the 50s and 60s each day – the slopes were all in great shape thanks to some “real winter” weather in the days leading up to the event. The Appalachian Ski Mtn. staff and French Swiss instructors were diligent in slope maintenance, assistance with the lifts and attention to the needs of each individual athlete.

As athletes concluded the competition, many were heard making plans for attending this event next year, amidst challenges for future success.

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