Going for gold: the real Winter Olympics in Flag

Published On:
Thursday, February 25, 2010
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You might have witnessed Shaun White’s “Double McTwist,” or seen the U.S. hockey team upset the Canadians, or watched Apollo Anton Ohno and his strange facial hair win a seventh Winter Olympics medal, but unless you were in Flagstaff this weekend, you missed the best part of the Winter Olympics.

The Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) Winter Games took place in Flagstaff from Thursday to Sunday, with athletes competing in alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, speed skating, snowboarding and snow shoeing, with ability levels ranging from beginner to advanced.

While competitors in Vancouver are getting paid thousands of dollars per medal ($25,000 for a gold, according to “Operation Gold” on www.teamusa.org), appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and racking up endorsement deals, Special Olympics athletes participate purely for the sport. There are no perks other than making friends and having fun.

Their motto is simple: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

SOAZ provides year-round sports training and competition for over 9,000 intellectually disabled athletes, and with only 15 full-time employees, relies heavily on the support of volunteers.

“Special Olympics Arizona could not possibly run as it does without volunteers,” Gail Gilmartin, director of volunteer programs at SOAZ, said in an e-mail.

The Special Olympics give their athletes a chance to be heroes, but they also give potential volunteers the same chance. With the Winter Games in Flagstaff over, Valley residents have several opportunities to help in the next few months.

The East Valley flag football tournament will take place Saturday, Feb. 27, at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, and the area’s cheerleading competition will be at Mesa’s Broadway Recreation Center March 2.

The West Valley cheerleading and track and field competitions will both take place at Raymond S. Kellis High School in Glendale on March 10 and 12, respectively.

More events are dispersed throughout the calendar, including flag football, tennis and aquatics, among others.

All of the upcoming events, which can be found on SpecialOlympicsArizona.org, require volunteers.

So unless you’re busy training for the next Olympics in London or Sochi, here’s your chance to make a difference on the big stage. Most of the SOAZ events over the course of the year are within driving distance of Tempe.

You won’t get paid $25,000, appear in any Nike commercials or be able to pull off an Apollo Ohno-style goatee, but you will get to do something people care about — even gold-medal curling athletes don’t get that honor.

Jack could never pull off an Ohno goatee. Console him at jlfitzpa@asu.edu