Upper Valley hosts Special Olympics

by Debora Hyemin Han | 1/26/17 2:00am

Approximately 80 to 90 athletes representing 11 teams participated in the 15th Annual Upper Valley Winter Games, hosted by Special Olympics New Hampshire, this past Saturday at the Dartmouth Alpine Valley Ski Hill. They were cheered on by more than 150 Dartmouth students, community members, volunteers and supporters from Vermont and New Hampshire, according to Katie Robbins ’85, volunteer coordinator for the Upper Valley Special Olympics Winter Games.

The local winter games, founded by Pete Bleyler ’61 and the Dartmouth Club of the Upper Valley in 2003, is a celebration of athletes with intellectual disabilities who compete regionally to qualify for the higher levels of the Special Olympics. This year, the opening ceremony speaker was Walter Malmquist ’78 Tu’88, a former U.S. Olympic skier and longtime volunteer of the Games.

Malmquist said that since the last time he volunteered at the Games during the 1980s, the athletic abilities of the competitors have improved, making the Games more than a means to offer a particular minority of athletes opportunities to participate in sports, citing the alpine skiing event as an example.

“The alpine skiers are not just average skiers,” he said. “They’re competitors.”

Brandon Hester ’20, a member of the Dartmouth football team and a volunteer at this year’s Games, echoed a similar sentiment, noting how it was exciting to see the athletes “getting pumped up like any athlete would,” listening to songs and warming up before events.

Oliver Darwish ’18, who led the opening ceremonies and awards ceremonies this year, described the event as having the mindset of celebrating abilities.

“We get sidetracked in everyday life with focusing on what we lack, but in [the] Special Olympics, you learn to appreciate everything you can do,” he said.

For the participants of the Games, the fact that students and community are there to celebrate this alongside them is meaningful, said PJ Bigley ’17, student liaison for the event.

“To see students at the bottom of the alpine venue with signs and to have people cheering you on is very special for them,” she said.

Student groups that were signed up to volunteer at this year’s event included Dartmouth’s football, women’s crew and women’s rugby teams, fraternities such as Zeta Psi and Alpha Chi Alpha and local high school teams such as Hanover High School’s girls and boys hockey. Since the event coincided with the presidential inauguration weekend and various related political movements across the country, Robbins said it is likely that fewer student groups were able to participate than those who had signed up. In addition, organizers did not have access to the campus listserv this year and therefore were unable to send emails to campus. These two factors made outreach more difficult than in previous years, according to Bigley and Darwish.

Nevertheless, overall participation for the event was comparable to previous years, Robbins said. She added that it was exciting to see the “regulars” come back to the event each year.

“It’s beautiful to welcome new volunteers, but it’s great to see the same groups coming back year after year and that that tradition is so important to them,” she said.

Bigley is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.