Flagstaff hosts myriad of winter sports for Arizona Winter Special Olympics

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This past weekend, Northern Arizona University (NAU) had the opportunity to host a very unique group of athletes as the city of Flagstaff held the Arizona Winter Special Olympics for the 23rd time. A hotbed for professional athletes to train in high altitude, Flagstaff has hosted the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and a myriad of international athletes who represent a variety of sports and utilize the city’s 7,000-feet elevation to gain an athletic advantage.

From Feb. 22 to 24, more than 300 athletes from all over Arizona competed in a multitude of winter sports such as alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, speed skating, snowshoeing, figure skating and floor hockey.


Delaine Toledo, 18, from St. Michael, Ariz. skiies towards the finish line at Snowbowl on Feb. 22. Toledo finishes first in the class two of the Special Olympics’ Alpine Skiing competition. For five years Toledo has been training at Telluride, CO. with St. Michaels Association for Special Education. (Photo by Amanda Ray)

In addition to NAU, which held the floor hockey competition in the University Fieldhouse, a number of other venues around Flagstaff were used. Arizona Snowbowl held the skiing and snowboarding events, Jay Lively Arena hosted the speed and figure skating competitions, and the Flagstaff Nordic Center held cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The opening and closing ceremonies were held at Sinagua Middle School.

“We really count on everyone donating their facilities. NAU was gracious enough to let us use two facilities plus the meal service, and almost 90 percent of the volunteers we had out this weekend all came from NAU,” said Sarah Haines, director of volunteers and human resources.

The Special Olympics hold events year-round and includes 22 different sports in addition to the ones involved in the winter games. To qualify for the Special Olympics, teams and individuals compete in their respective areas for the chance to move on to the statewide competition.

“They have to train for eight weeks before they go to competition. We have six different areas in the state, so they’ll compete in their area competitions and then move on to the state competitions. And they even have nationals, too. We have national games coming up next year in [New] Jersey,” said Special Olympics marketing coordinator Kali Knaack.

The Special Olympics works in conjunction with the Arizona Interscholastic Association to set up special education athletic programs throughout the high schools in Arizona. With no government funding, the Special Olympics rely heavily on fundraising and people donating their time, money or facilities.

“It’s all funded through individuals, corporate donations and a lot of times our athletes and coaches fundraise for their own delegations,” Haines said.

Working with more than just sports, the Special Olympics also has created programs to help promote healthy lifestyles, education and eliminate the use of the word retarded through their campaign called “Spread the Word to End the Word.” Some of their other programs include Special Smiles, which offers free dental care to the athletes, and Healthy Athletes, which works to encourage healthy living in a variety of ways.

“Its crazy — the Special Olympics is huge, and it’s more than just sports,” Knaack said.



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