For the 35 athletes who competed in the 2021 Winter Games in Wausau on February 20, it was a long time coming. For most of them, it was their first in-person Special Olympics event in roughly a year.
Most of the athletes at Nine Mile Forest and Granite Peak Ski Area this year were from the nearby agencies in Region 2, where winter sports are most popular and where travel was minimal. However, some not-so-local athletes made longer trips so that they could experience the long-overdue thrill of a Special Olympics Wisconsin event.
The Power brothers make the trip
For twins Nick and Steve Power of Elkhorn, it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. Not only did they travel 200 miles each way for the event, but it was the first Winter Games for the competitive brothers who typically excel at sports like track, basketball, tennis, volleyball and swimming with the Walworth County Adult Program.
The similarities between track and snowshoeing made it a natural transition that allowed them to get a taste of the Special Olympics energy they’ve missed the past year.
“This has been the hardest thing I’ve been through in my life,” Nick said. “I’m happy to be moving on from this (pandemic) and be back. This is just a start!”
The 15-year Special Olympics veterans also added considerable hardware to their medal collections. Steve took home three silver medals in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter snowshoeing races while Nick earned three gold medals in the same events.
“Special Olympics is so important to them. I can’t even describe it quite enough. I really saw it this year when things were canceled and the effect (that had).” – Nick and Steve’s mom, Cheryl
While they were thrilled with their performances in a sport they had never tried before, that was just one part of why the day was so great for them.
Happy to be back
“The cancellation of events due to COVID has been extremely difficult. I’m glad to be back competing again and I’m glad to be back at a Special Olympics event,” Steve said.
Their mom, Cheryl, has also seen firsthand how hard this year has been on her sons. That’s why it was well worth it to her to drive them all the way up to Wausau for the Winter Games.
“Special Olympics is so important to them. I can’t even describe it quite enough. I really saw it this year when things were canceled and the effect (that had),” Cheryl said. “Being with their teammates is so important—the social aspect of it.”
Next on the horizon
Nick and Steve enjoyed themselves so much with this new sport that they plan to keep training on snowshoes through the winter to help them train for track season.
“Training for snowshoeing has been good. It took a little time getting used to it,” Nick said. “Snowshoeing helps to get my legs stronger and builds up my endurance.”
Nick is also hoping that added endurance helps propel him to Orlando for the 2022 USA Games. Steve represented Wisconsin at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, where he picked up a silver medal in the 200-meter dash and a gold in the 4 x 400 relay. Nick hopes to be selected for the track team this time around.
Endurance is also something we’ve all had to work on as we wait for the pandemic to subside so we can get back to the SOWI events that we all know and love. The 2021 Winter Games was a very small event, but it was a start.
It took lots of hard work to ensure safety through protocols like limited participants, social distancing, masks, and health screenings, but it sure was nice to see that it brought some sense of normalcy to athletes like Nick and Steve, if just for a day.