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Special Olympics Wyoming Winter Games brings athletes back together in Jackson

A group of people races in snowshoes.
Hanna Merzbach
Athletes race on snowshoes on the fields next to Summit Innovations School.

This story comes to Wyoming Public Radio through a partnership with KHOL/Jackson Hole Community Radio.

The Special Olympics Wyoming Winter Games returned to Jackson this week.

Athletes with intellectual disabilities from across the Cowboy State, Utah and Montana competed on snowshoes and cross country skis at Summit Innovations School. Others competed in downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The annual winter competition has been on hold for three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes from across the region said they were excited to be back at it.

Hanna Merzbach
Belle Fralin, a Jackson resident, competes in Special Olympics sports year round. She’s especially excited about the basketball season.

Returning to the competition

Belle Fralin, 18, was the only Jacksonite competing on snowshoes on a slushy, rainy Wednesday morning.

“I like to do snowshoeing, because it’s fun, it’s fast and I have a great time,” Fralin said after her first time trial.

Fralin has been competing in the Special Olympics for about a decade, but she took a break the last couple years when events were canceled. She said she’s been practicing hard for this race.

“I’m really proud of [myself] going back to snowshoeing,” she said.

Kimi Allen, 21, and Deni Burton, 26, came all the way from Sheridan for the snowshoe race. Allen said it was an opportunity for athletes to see their friends — some they haven’t seen for years.

“I just enjoy their smiling faces, and I love my friends without their masks on — it’s really fun,” Allen said as Burton nodded in agreement.

Getting together with friends

Carrie Pilcher, a Special Olympics area director from Sheridan, has been involved with the competitions for over 20 years. She said athletes compete in other sports year round across Wyoming, on top of the winter games.
“They really look forward to those four times a year getting together with all their friends and having a good time, experiencing joy, sharing it with one another,” Pilcher said.

But that day at the high school fields, there’s one particular event athletes, like Allen, said they were really looking forward to a Hawaiian-themed luau at Snow King Resort.

“I’m excited for the dance,” Allen said.

The Wednesday evening party was another opportunity for the athletes to get together — after the day’s competitions were over.

The games wrapped Thursday. Athletes will attend their next state games in May in Gillette.

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.
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