Special Olympics Winter Games begin

The lake effect snow that fell on the area yesterday and today made for perfect skiing and snowboarding conditions.

The 27th annual U.P. Winter Games for Special Olympians began at Marquette Mountain this afternoon. Nine Alpine skiers and one snowboarder showed their skills on the slopes.
They’re among about 150 athletes competing this weekend.

“We start, usually, practices (in) about early December,” volunteer ski coach Bob Rutkowski said. “(We) meet every Sunday morning from 11 to 1, and it gives us a chance to do some instruction and then, as the competition approaches, we start to ski gates and practice on courses.”

Spectators were on hand to cheer the athletes on during their downhill runs. Some of the competitors have taken part for more than a decade.

“It’s very rewarding as a coach,” Rutkowski said. “Sometimes we take athletes who have never skied before and get them on skis and hopefully, by the end of the year, get them skiing courses. Sometimes it takes longer than that, but it’s just very rewarding to see them progress.”

Opening ceremonies for the Winter Games take place tomorrow morning at 9 at the Superior Dome. They’re open to the public. NMU athletes, high school cheerleaders and ROTC cadets from the Wildcat Battalion are joining the Special Olympians for the occasion.