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'Inspirational' athletes compete at Special Olympics invitational

Tribune-Democrat - 1/27/2020

Jan. 27--After Christa Mereen was born, her doctors predicted she'd never walk or carry on a conversation, she said.

Instead, Mereen, 32, has spent her life defying expectations -- competing in a long list of Special Olympics Pennsylvania sports over the past 18 years.

On Sunday, the Bedford woman was doing it again, snow shoe racing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort a year after damaging ligaments and dislocating her knee during a fall at the 2019 Winter Games.

"After I fell, I went through physical therapy for months. It was tough," Mereen said. "Being out here again ... it's awesome."

On Sunday, Christa Mereen was among several dozen athletes from Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford and Somerset counties competing in the regional Snowshoe Invitational meant to enable Special Olympics Pennsylvania to match athletes of similar skills into competitive categories for the upcoming Winter Games.

The 43rd annual Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games are set for Feb. 9 through 11 at the resort -- an event that draws more than 300 athletes from across the state each year.

It's about more than wins and losses, Christa's parents, Tom and Marty Mereen, said.

The Special Olympics Pennsylvania games have led their daughter to lifelong friends -- and a strengthened self-confidence, Marty Mereen said.

"She's always had an active life -- even giving speeches across the state to represent the games -- something we never would've thought she'd do back then," said Marty Mereen, whose daughter was born with an ultra-rare chromosome abnormality that perplexed doctors for years. "But she hasn't let that stop her. She goes out an speaks to groups of 3,000 people about Special Olympics."

Gary Johnson, of Windber, said he's witnessed countless "inspirational" Special Olympics stories over the last two decades.

"Some of them have a really tough time competing," said Johnson, a Special Olympics volunteer in short track races for more than 20 years. "But they come every year and they try their best."

"It's heartwarming," he said. "Because they're always wearing a smile."

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