April 07, 2020

Competitors, volunteers eager for start of Special Olympics

While the rest of the world anticipates the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the good folk of Carrabassett Valley are already preparing to host their own Olympic events.

For the 15th straight year, Sugarloaf/USA will provide the necessary venues for the Maine Special Olympics Winter Games.

And all around Carrabassett Valley, the cook stoves are heating up as townspeople prep for what some athletes probably consider their favorite event.

On Monday, mentally retarded athletes from age 8 on up will begin competing in nordic and alpine skiing, skating, and snowshoeing.

Trials in all events are set for Monday, with finals in the giant slalom and ski walk slated for that afternoon.

On Tuesday, finals will be held in the remaining events.

But on Sunday, there’s only one event that really counts: supper.

People from all around will bring food that will feed the 469 athletes and 160 coaches shortly after they gather at Sugarloaf.

The result is a monstrous potluck community dinner at the resort’s base lodge.

“Donations of any type of casserole you can imagine come in from people up and down the valley,” program director Phil Geelhoed said. “It basically feeds upward of 700 people, and the variety is something to behold.”

But that’s not the only perk the athletes will enjoy. Because of the generosity of condominium-owners at the mountain, they’ll also be housed in their very own Olympic village with easy access to all of the venues.

“It’s quite an opportunity for our people to stay in the condos on the mountainside,” Geelhoed said.

While the athletes were all in place a year ago, the weather still took a bite out of the schedule.

Last year’s finals were snowed out when a storm socked in the mountain and made it impossible for judges to travel to Sugarloaf in time for the morning events.

Geelhoed said 400-500 volunteers will combine to make the games a reality.

The Special Olympics began in 1968 when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw a need for a sports program for people with mental retardation.

In 1970, Maine became the first state to hold a Winter Games. That year, 128 athletes were invited to Kiwanis ski slope in Gorham.

Athletes at this year’s games will have a lot of opportunities to try out various activities.

Listed on the schedule are snowmobile, sleigh, and snowcat rides, swimming, and a victory dance.

And according to Geelhoed, athletes will also get to try out one of the world’s hottest recreational trends: snowboarding.

“We’re offering it as a demonstration for the first time,” he said.

“I’m not aware of any [athletes] who have been doing any snowboarding training. We’re more or less going to say, `Hey, there are some professionals here at Sugarloaf who would be glad to show you how to do it.’ ”

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