CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Caitlin Killarney said while she has trained all year for the Special Olympics, the most important part of the games isn’t winning her event.
“I don’t worry about competition, I’m just here to have fun,” said Killarney, a Nordic skier with a team from Families Matter Inc., an adult community support service.
Killarney, 27, of Vassalboro, was among hundreds of athletes competing Monday in the Special Olympics Maine Winter Games at Sugarloaf.
The first Special Olympics Winter Games in the world was held in Gorham in 1969, and the event has grown from the original gathering of a handful of athletes to the 500 athletes from 65 teams that gathered at Sugarloaf at noon for the opening ceremony. A crowd of coaches and athletes cheered and clapped as the ceremonial torch was lit by Jerry Bourget, of Lewiston, a longtime athlete serving this year as a snowshoe official.
Lisa Bird, head of public relations for Special Olympics Maine, said the event is important for the athletes because it gives them a chance to compete among their peers and have fun.
“It’s a chance for them to show off their abilities, rather than their disabilities,” she said.
During the three-day winter event, athletes from across the state compete in Nordic skiing — which includes cross-country, ski-jumping and biathlon; alpine skiing, which includes downhill and slalom; snowshoe races, speed skating and dual skiing.
Bird said many of the athletes train year round, looking forward to the games. “It’s the big culminating event from all the training,” she said.
Killarney said she trains on Tuesdays for the winter games. She said she likes staying active, and also plays basketball at the summer games, dances, swims and sings karaoke.
“It’s tiring, but it’s good,” she said.
Along with the scheduled competition, the games also include a sing-a-long, dancing, group meals, a torchlight parade and fireworks.
“It makes me feel good to see these guys have a great time and hanging out with each other,” said Killarney’s coach, Debra Wells.
A schedule for the games had 10 p.m. as the suggested bed time for Sunday, but Killarney said there was too much fun to be had to go to sleep that soon.
The athletes on Families Matter stayed in condos together, and stayed up late talking and playing cards.
“We all just have much fun hanging out and being together,” Killarney said.
Two other friends and teammates standing nearby joined in agreement that the winter games were a great way to meet people and socialize.
Teammate Amanda Stevens, 31, of Oakland, said this is her second time at the winter games. While Stevens said she had came to Families Matter since 2003, it wasn’t until the 2013 winter games that she decided to learn to Nordic ski.
“I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to challenge myself,” she said.
Tiffany Carter, 24, of Waterville, said she has been competing in the games since childhood, though this was the second time she was on the team with Families Matter.
She said she first competed in snowshoeing before switching to cross-country skiing in high school.
“Special Olympics is my entire life,” she said. “Overall, we just have a good time.”
For anyone considering competing in the Special Olympics, Killarney said she would advise them to not get frustrated when learning a new sport or if at first they don’t place in their event.
“You should stay positive,” she said. “And whether you win or lose, shake their hands.”
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 firstname.lastname@example.org