For Brianna Salazar, swooshing her way downhill and between flags while skiing the giant slalom feels exhilarating.
“I love that experience. I never thought I’d get an experience like that. I just love it,” said Brianna, a Wyoming High School senior who is heading to the Special Olympics Michigan Winter Games Feb. 3 to 6.
She, Emily Smith and Dallas Hoffman, were selected to compete in the four-day competition, attended by 900 Michigan athletes, in the greater Traverse City area. Special Olympic skiers since sixth grade, they said they love the competition, fun and camaraderie of the games, which include downhill and cross-country skiing, figure skating, snowshoeing, snowboarding and speed-skating. Emily has raked up 40 medals; Dallas has 44 and Brianna has an array of them as well.
“I want to finish off really well, and I want to make sure I finish and get down that hill,” said Brianna. “It doesn’t matter if I’m in first place all that matters is that I finish.”
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.4 million athletes in 170 countries. Special Olympics competitions are held every day, all around the world—including local, national and regional competitions, adding up to more than 70,000 events a year.
Each year, longtime special education teacher Cathy Kamminga and Wyoming Junior High teacher Steve Caul brings a group of students to the winter and summer state games, based on qualifying times, behavior, grades and attendance. Students stay at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, attend a dance, and spend a lot of time just having fun.
Kamminga said the games help students improve their communication skills and confidence, which transfers into the classroom.
“When things get tough, you get up and you get back up and keep trying,” she said.