While most of the 140 athletes at this weekend’s State Winter Games in Wausau are seasoned vets in winter sports, there will be plenty of athletes experiencing the unique thrill of Winter Games competition for the first time this year.
This year’s field will include four nine-year-old athletes competing in the Winter Games for the first time. On the other end of the age spectrum, this year’s oldest competitor, 62-year-old Allen Drew of Eau Claire, will be competing in his first State Winter Games after just taking up snowshoeing for the first time this winter.
“I tried it for the first time and I liked it. The cold feels kind of good.” – Allen Drew
Special Olympics athletes love to try new sports and new adventures, and Allen’s foray into snowshoeing is a perfect example of this, and the idea that everyone should live each day to the fullest and try new challenges that are thrown their way. Despite his newness to snowshoeing, he’s approaching the Winter Games with the same confidence he brings to his other favorite sports, softball and bowling. “I’m going to win. I like to win,” Allen said. And it should come as a surprise to no one that even if he doesn’t win, he’ll be brave in the attempt.
Allen has been a Special Olympics athlete since 2009. One of his favorite memories was when his underdog softball team battled and won against a tough team from Milwaukee while playing a championship game in Eau Claire. Softball has long been his bread and butter, but Allen decided to give snowshoeing a shot after his foster care provider, Mary Irwin, encouraged him to try it. She thought it’d be a good way to be more active and less bored during Wisconsin’s famously long and bitter winters.
While Mary started encouraging Allen last at the start of last winter, he was initially resistant. This winter, Mary suggested it again. “You can just try it and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it,” Irwin said.
“Special Olympics has done so many things. He has self confidence and has something to look forward to. He has learned how to play as a team with other athletes,” – Allen’s foster care provider, Mary
So this winter, he joined his teammates from the Eau Claire Adult agency in beautiful Carson Park for training. And lo and behold, Allen has really enjoyed his new sport. “I tried it for the first time and I liked it,” Allen said. “The cold feels kind of good.” Weather permitting, he and his team have been training every Sunday for the big weekend ahead. Allen has been enthusiastic about practices and seems to really be getting into the winter sport spirit. “He is always up and ready to go. He looks forward to it and he definitely won’t forget it,” Mary said about Allen’s eagerness to practice this winter.
The opportunity to train in a new and unique sport like snowshoeing is just one of the many things that Allen and Mary like about Special Olympics. Mary believes that competing in Special Olympics has helped improve Allen’s life in many ways. “Special Olympics has done so many things. He has self confidence and has something to look forward to. He has learned how to play as a team with other athletes,” Mary said.
At Special Olympics Wisconsin, it truly touches us when we hear stories of athletes showing courage and an openness to new sports experiences. It’s one of the main things Special Olympics is all about. Good luck to you, Allen, in your new snowshoeing adventure this weekend! And good luck to all the Special Olympics Wisconsin Winter Warriors who will be competing in Wausau at the Winter Games! Your determination and bravery in your attempts continue to inspire those around you.