The annual Special Olympics Vermont Winter Games took place at Pico Mountain Resort, with nearly 200 athletes competing this year.
Among those athletes is Taylor Terry of Shelburne, who skied up to her mom, Laura Terry, after a first run through the giant slalom course.
“Our daughter has been skiing for — I wanna say probably 10 years,” said Laura Terry, “So yeah, so we’ve been coming to this every single year.”
As to why the annual winter games are fun for parents, Laura Terry said, “I love watching her [Taylor] feel successful and be successful, and ... skiing has always been a passion for Taylor ever since she’s learned how.”
Taylor Terry, 25, said that super-G has been her toughest event. But over the years, she said she's gotten better at skiing faster.
"At this hill, it was kind of intimidating at first," she admitted, "because it was the first time I’ve skied it. But I like going down the hill. It’s my most favorite, the exhilaration."
"And my mom can’t even keep up with me anymore,” she added, laughing.
Not far away, Selina Hunter, who coaches competitors from Orleans and Essex counties, helped her team get ready for the snowshoe races. In those events, five or six competitors line up and then sprint distances from 50 meters to 200 meters.
“I have an athlete, and this is her very first time ever doing this," explained Hunter. "She started her first race with tears of fear, but by the time she finished, she was [in] tears of joy."
"She was just — I mean, she had us all crying and it’s been a really good season this year, " she said.
Hunter waved and greeted several friends in the noisy crowd and beamed.
“You can come here in the worst mood and you’re always going to leave top of the world,” Hunter said.
Twenty-seven-year old James Morse of Claremont, New Hampshire, was competing in a snowboard race. Taking a break between runs, he explained that he liked being part of Special Olympics because it pushed him to try new things.
“I like challenges, 'cause if it's not — you don’t have a challenge — then it’s not any fun really,” he said.
"Most everybody’s friendly and they cheer you on. And it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun. ... It makes me feel good,” Morse said, nodding.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver created the Special Olympics in 1968 as a way to bolster inclusion for those with cognitive disabilities. A variety of Vermont ski resorts have hosted the state’s winter games over the years.
Volunteer Holly Scudder-Chase has been taking part since 1990, and even volunteered at last year's Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
A member of the Bolton Valley Ski Patrol, Scudder-Chase said she does it for the athletes, “but I always go away feeling so good inside,” she admitted. “And it reminds me that I have nothing in my world to complain about.”
“These athletes teach me more about life and they always have a positive outlook. Their oath is 'let me win, and if I cannot, let me be brave in the attempt.' [That] is something I think we should all go by,” Scudder-Chase pointed out. “I love it.”
She also loves the sportsmanship and friendships that she sees develop between the athletes, the coaches and the many volunteers.
“I love the fact that they struggle and struggle and struggle, and when you see them go through the finish line with their arms way up in the air and with a ‘yay!’ — How can you not feel that? And how can you not be proud of their efforts and want to celebrate with them?” Scudder-Chase said.
“It’s what it’s all about,” she added, smiling.
On Wednesday, Special Olympics Vermont will for the first time host a Unified Champion Schools snowshoe relay competition, which will pair school-aged racers from across the state with and without cognitive disabilities.