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EDITORIAL: Polar Plunge a chilly warmup for Special Olympics Winter Games

Tribune-Democrat - 1/30/2020

Jan. 30--Brave souls will endure the cold waters at Canoe Creek State Park in Hollidaysburg on Saturday to raise both awareness and funds for the Pennsylvania Special Olympics Winter Games.

The Winter Games Polar Plunge will kick off two weekends of fun as our region plays host to Special Olympics athletes and coaches.

The Winter Games will be held Feb. 9-11 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort -- with events to include alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding.

Gary Johnson, of Windber, is a longtime Special Olympics volunteer. He told reporter David Hurst he's worked short track races for more than 20 years.

Johnson called the athletes "inspirational," participating despite their challenges.

"Some of them have a really tough time competing," Johnson said Sunday at the Snowshoe Invitational at Seven Springs, a walk-up to the Winter Games next weekend.

"They come every year and they try their best," he said. "It's heartwarming, because they're always wearing a smile."

Volunteers such as Johnson help make Special Olympics events successful.

The Winter Games welcomes "more than 1,000 enthusiastic volunteers," according to the event's website, and always needs help.

And while the help is important, the experience is valuable for the volunteers, Cameron Lantz, a member of Western Pennsylvania Race Club, said at the 2019 Winter Games.

"My mother, sister and I are doing this together, so it's a family thing," the Murrysville resident said.

We urge our readers to consider volunteering for the Winter Games -- or to at least stop out to cheer on the athletes. Western region competition director Mike Ermer said the experience will be moving and inspiring.

"The vibe is high, and there's a lot of positive energy," he said last February at Seven Springs.

"The expectation for the athletes is just for them to do their best. The athlete oath is 'Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,' and they really are the epitome of that because they go out and try their hardest, and that's all that we can ask."

But first, you can head out to Canoe Creek on Saturday to support those who are being cool for this great cause.

The Winter Games Polar Plunge allows participants to "dip a toe, wade or jump into the icy waters" -- according to the Special Olympics Pennsylvania website -- to benefit the event.

Those who volunteer, donate or cheer are supporting athletes such as Christa Mereen, of Bedford, who dislocated her knee and injured ligaments at the 2019 Winter Games, but who is back in 2020 to compete in showshoeing.

"After I fell, I went through physical therapy for months. It was tough," Mereen said.

"Being out here again ... it's awesome."

Yes it is.

We welcome the Special Olympics Winter Games back to our region, and salute those taking part in the Polar Plunge on Saturday.


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