Eric Lemieux wins Special Olympics medal

by Mika Jehoon Lee | 4/7/17 2:10am

When Dartmouth Dining Services employee Eric Lemieux was not at work last winter, he trained six days a week to prepare for three different snowshoeing events in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. After 12 days of competition in the Games, the world-class athlete returned to the College on March 30 with a bronze medal, a sixth place ribbon and a participation ribbon.

Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. It organizes the Special Olympics World Games, which take place every two years and alternate between summer and winter games. According to the 2017 World Winter Games’ website, this year 2,700 athletes from 107 nations competed in nine different sports including speed skating, snowshoeing and alpine skiing.

Lemieux said he has always been a hiker, so becoming a snowshoer was a natural transition because there are many similarities between hiking and snowshoeing. In New Hampshire, Lemieux trained as a member of the Claremont Cool Cats, a Special Olympics program that offers training in a variety of sports. Lemieux qualified for the 2017 Games by winning gold medals in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 4x100-meter relay snowshoe races at the NH State Winter Games held at the Dartmouth Skiway.

At the 2017 Games, Lemieux placed third in the final division of the 4x100m snowshoe relay and sixth in the final division of the 100m snowshoe race. He was disqualified in the final division of the 200-meter snowshoe race because his record was approximately 21 percent faster than that of the snowshoer that finished last place in the division, Lemieux said. According to the Special Olympics’ website, the organization has historically suggested that the variance between the highest and the lowest scores in each division not differ by more than 15 percent for the establishment of equitable divisions.

Lemieux’s mother Beth Lemieux said that she understands why the 15 percent guideline is in place because some athletes deliberately downplay their abilities to be placed in a lower division’s final. She added that the sunny weather, firm snow and a large crowd on the day of the final division of the 200m race motivated her son to run his heart out. Lemieux’s friend Cam Lee ’16 said that Lemieux was thrilled to participate in the Olympics.

“It’s the Olympics, and [Lemieux] had a ton of adrenaline going and he knows how much support he had back home in Vermont and in New Hampshire,” Lee said. “I don’t think you can fault someone for giving their best and having a spectacular time.”

The evening of March 27, more than 50 people from Claremont, where Lemieux lives, gathered in Broad Street Park to welcome him home. He was also invited to the office of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu Wednesday morning for medaling at the 2017 Games.

Associate director of DDS Don Reed said that the entire DDS staff is incredibly proud of Lemieux’s accomplishments at the 2017 Games and his dedication to snowshoeing.

Lemieux’s friend Adam Philie ’17 said that he was especially inspired by Lemieux’s humility.

“We’d ask him about how everything was going, and he never fed that crazy information to us, which was cool to hear about it from his mom, and I realized that he was really humble throughout the process,” Philie said.

In addition to his snowshoeing success at the Games, Lemieux said that he enjoyed the food in Austria as well as traveling with his family in Germany after the competition.

Lemieux added that he is now training four to five times a week to prepare for swimming events in the state summer games in June. In 2014, he participated in and medaled in a national competition for the aquatics event in Princeton, New Jersey. If Lemieux medals, he will compete in the National 2019 Summer Games.

Lemieux said that his goal is to always be courageous. He said that the motto of Special Olympics is also the motto of his life: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”