Md. Special Olympians converge on Whitetail Resort

February 28, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Tony Davis of Hagerstown dashes to the finish line in the snowshoe event in the Special Olympics of Maryland games held at Whitetail Resort on Monday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — The people cheering loudly for Lee Follett on Thursday afternoon were rooting for him not because he was the fastest in the 400-meter race, but because he showed perseverance after taking a harsh fall.

Follett, 34, tumbled in a wet spot on the snowshoe track at Whitetail Resort and initially seemed down for the count. But the Special Olympics competitor from Smithsburg continued, crawling several yards toward the finish line before getting to his feet and crossing it with his father.

His return to the waiting area was met with pats on the back and conversation with a teammate. It’s that camaraderie that participants, parents, coaches, volunteers and staff say makes Special Olympics what it is.

“Come here to win and have fun. It’s all to have fun,” said Dennis Oetter, a 51-year-old participant from the Frederick County, Md., delegation.

Three hundred and fifty athletes from Special Olympics of Maryland have descended on Whitetail Resort in Montgomery Township, Pa., for three days of winter games competition that concludes Tuesday. The event moved to Whitetail Resort from Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., for the first time.

The new location cuts down on the drive time for many delegations, plus Whitetail Resort already hosted several training opportunities, according to Jason Schriml, vice president of competition and training for Special Olympics of Maryland.

“This has been the truest form of a partnership we’ve had in a long time,” Schriml said of the cooperation with resort officials.

On Sunday, the area designated for the snowshoe track had plenty of mud and not any snow.

“They trucked snow in and laid a 24-inch base down,” Schriml said.

Resort spokeswoman Kristin McKenrick said crews transported snow from elsewhere on the mountain. They pulled off an acre’s worth of snow with a depth of one foot.

Tony Davis of Hagerstown said he’s competed in Special Olympics five times. When asked how he’d explain the event to newcomers, Davis, 40, said they should experience it for themselves.

“Come out and watch,” he said.

Snowshoeing was a new event for many of the competitors.

“You just have to burn rubber. It’s all in the knees,” Oetter said.

John and Vicki Follett started their involvement with Special Olympics when their son, Lee, was 8 years old.

“It gave our son an opportunity to participate in sports and a sense of camaraderie. He first started with track and field,” said John Follett, who coaches the Washington County delegation.

Special Olympics sports address more than physical needs, according to John Follett, whose team members practice once a week.

“It’s an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to come out, be active and have a good time,” he said.

Rockville, Md., resident Ben Collins, 44, identified “camaraderie, bonding, friendship” as the best parts of Special Olympics. Collins, who is blind, had a guide help him navigate the track in his 31st year of competition.

Patrick Speaker’s parents, Mike and Tracy Speaker, greeted him after he crossed the finish line in his last race of the day. He was panting and said he fell three times on the course.

“Tired is not the word,” said Patrick Speaker, 23.

The Williamsport family described Special Olympics as a great organization.

“I think it gives them a feeling of accomplishment that they can do the things the guys on TV do,” said Mike Speaker, adding that only the scores and times are different from professional athletes.

“It gives him something to look forward to because it’s something he can do,” Tracy Speaker said.

Schriml said close to 100 coaches and 250 volunteers assisted athletes at the event. People interested in volunteering can register online, then undergo a background check and orientation before being assigned roles that match their skills.

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