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No Winter Games for Special Olympians

3:47 PM, Jan 29, 2010   |    comments
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"He said to me, 'What do you mean she's a ski racer? How does she do that?'" Leonard said.

Leonard says his boss had a hard time grappling with the concept that someone with Down syndrome could ski.

Not only does Amanda Leonard ski, she is an avid bicyclist and has a gold medal in swimming.

Her dad still remembers one of Amanda's first national competitions in North Carolina. Amanda was about 9 years old and competing in the free style race.

"Here she is, this little athlete in this huge pool and we were in the stands and she was out in the lead and halfway across the pool she kind of stops and looks up and waves at the crowd. It was amazing. And then she just took off again and she actually won that race," Leonard said.

Leonard is a coach and board member of Special Olympics Colorado. He believes Special Olympics allows children and adults with special needs to make friendships, improve their self confidence and learn they can do anything they choose to do.

Close to 10,000 athletes in Colorado compete in 20 different events year round as part of Special Olympics or SOCO. One of the premiere events takes place at the end of March at Copper Mountain.

The state "Winter Games" follow weeks of training at the ski resort. Copper Mountain provides the athletes, volunteers and SOCO staff with free lift tickets and designated training areas.

Unfortunately, this year, the training will go on, but there will be no winter games. SOCO President and CEO Mindy Watrous says it was very hard to disappoint the athletes, but this was a financial decision.

"About 50 percent of Colorado nonprofits are significantly below their projected revenue goals and it is projected to be worse for nonprofits in 2010. So, we're being as conservative as possible, because the longevity and future of this organization is much more important than a single event," Watrous said.

Watrous says the travel, lodging and meals connected to the winter games adds up to about $76,000. She says donors to SOCO are extremely loyal, but they're giving less right now and they are also concerned about their ability to give in the future.

Leonard is on the finance committee for SOCO and helped make this tough decision. He admits it tugged at his heart strings, but he believes the year round competitions are more important to sustain the organization. Athletes around the state from ages 2 to 60-something are involved in more than 80 events.

Leonard says if you ever get a chance to watch a Special Olympics competition you will be hooked.

"They really congratulate each other, they're giving high fives, they're giving hugs, they're giving as much joy as you can imagine," he said.

SOCO receives no state, federal or county funding. If you would like to support the cause you can do so by looking for the tax check off (Line 36) on your Colorado income tax form. To learn more, go to www.specialolympicsco.org.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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