By Polly Lynn
The 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Austria in March 2017. Prior to that, athletes and coaches will arrive in Killington for the official Special Olympics USA training camp to be held Dec. 12-15, 2016. This is the first time this national training camp has been held in Vermont.
Killington’s selection as the host, in partnership with Castleton University, was announced at a press conference Monday, June 13 at Killington Resort. The event will be on the heels of the Women’s World Cup over Thanksgiving weekend, jumpstarting Killington’s early winter season.
“It’s a winter wonderland here in Vermont and we have such a wonderful community,” said Lisa DeNatale, president and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont. “I was persistent but it didn’t take long,” she said, explaining how Vermont was selected to host the national training camp. “Killington Resort and the facilities close by at Castleton’s Spartan Arena were a perfect fit… Killington is simply the biggest, and the drive to Rutland is not too far,” she added.
Killington will welcome 150 athletes, 40 coaches, 15 assistant coaches, four directors and a medical team to train for alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Athletes selected to compete in floor hockey; figure skating and speed skating will train at Castleton University’s Spartan Arena in Rutland.
In order to qualify for the USA Special Olympics team traveling to the Austrian Games, Special Olympic athletes must have won a gold medal in their regional games, DeNatale explained. Additionally, many conversations are had with the athlete, his or her family, coaches, etc. to determine whether the athlete is a good fit. A level of independence is required for the two-week trip to Austria in addition to characteristics like good sportsmanship, she added.
In addition to announcing the training camp location, Special Olympics USA also officially revealed the names of the athletes and coaches nominated to the team at the press conference, Monday. Vermont has two athletes and one assistant coach on the list for the 2017 games. Ethan Boragine from Fairlee will compete in snowboarding, and Laura Buchanan from White River Junction will compete in alpine skiing. Michael White from Bennington will join the team as an assistant coach for cross-country skiing.
Buchanan has participated in the Special Olympics for 18 years, starting when she was a junior in high school. She was among the five athletes in attendance at the press conference and addressed the crowd of about 50.
“All athletes need support… Special Olympics is important because it gives everyone a chance to know the joy of sports and being accepted,” she said, encouraging community members to come out in support of the athletes during their week of training.
DeNatale echoed her call. “I hope many community members and businesses come out to cheer, volunteer and support these athletes; to see what they can do,” she said, adding, “Many of the athletes and coaches have not been to Vermont before. Let’s show them our Vermont hospitality!”
President of Castleton University David Wolk was excited to answer that call and offer the university’s facilities to the Special Olympic athletes. “What you will experience when you arrive here in December is a warm embrace of a loving family,” he said.
Additionally, DeNatale hopes the event will bring increased awareness to Vermont programs supporting these athletes; increase community engagement and encourage more people to become agents of change in Vermont. “It is my hope that this national training camp will inspire Vermonters to support the 1,500 Special Olympics athletes and Unified teammates who live, train and compete right here in Vermont all year round… there is a way for everyone to make a genuine difference in the lives of our athletes, long after the camp is over,” DeNatale said.
For more information visit specialolympicsusa.org.