Rachel Axon, USATODAY
ASPEN, Colo. — Daina Shilts was hoping she and pro snowboarder Hannah Teter could take gold. But as she stood on the podium Thursday at the X Games with a bronze medal, there was only joy for the Special Olympian.
Shilts medaled for the second consecutive year at the X Games in the Special Olympics unified snowboarding giant slalom, an event that exists in action sports’ premier competition thanks largely to her teammate.
Teter, a two-time Olympic medalist and global ambassador for the Special Olympics, helped bring the event to the X Games a year ago.
“It’s amazing. It gives us special Olympians a chance to shine and show the world that just because we have a disability doesn’t mean we can’t do the same,” said Shilts, 25, who came from Wisconsin to compete here.
“If it wasn’t for her, us athletes and me wouldn’t be competing at the X Games.”
The event pairs 10 Special Olympians with pro snowboarders, combining their times to determine the winner.
Teter had the idea after she was on a panel at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea in 2013. She was asked how she could get Special Olympians involved in youth sports, and the X Games was an obvious answer.
ESPN took to the idea quicker than she had hoped, and the event debuted in 2015.
For Teter, who has been inspired by a brother with intellectual disabilities, the event gives as much to the pro riders as they give to it. Positivity yields progression in snowboarding, something that’s important for them to remember during a stressful week of competition.
“I think the pro riders take away just as much as the special Olympians do,” she said. “The Special Olympians bring us back to our roots, which is how you get better.”
Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics International, said the X Games have created a model for other sports to follow. High schools up through pro sports should have unified events that include Special Olympians.
“I think we’re witnessing the beginning of a whole new model of what great sports looks like,” said Shriver, the son of the organization’s founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
“There should be parallel, heats, divisions, competitors. And the fans will love it and people will learn a profound lesson that to this time, sport has not taught, which is that the main measure of a person’s capacity to compete in sport is not who they beat but how well they compete. Not who is the best but what’s your best?”