CARRABASSETT VALLEY — When asked what her favorite part about being involved in the Special Olympics Winter Games was, Jaimi Buck, 32, of Farmington answered immediately: “The race.”

For the past week Buck has been practicing every morning at her home in Farmington, snowshoeing around the six acres with her dog, Baby, taking the lead. Buck said it was an opportunity to give her dog a chance to get some exercise, but admitted to liking the routine for her own benefit as well.

“(I would) practice every morning,” Buck said. “Have a break from television and housework. (I would) have coffee, breakfast, and get out and run.”

Buck is among seven athletes representing the Farmington organization Work First at the 2016 Special Olympics Maine Winter Games at Sugarloaf. The games began Sunday and wind up Tuesday.

Some 403 athletes representing 63 teams from across Maine traveled to Sugarloaf Sunday for the start of the 47th annual Winter Games, which are filled with skiing, snowshoeing, skating and victorious choruses of cheers and high-fives regardless of where someone places on the podium.

Special Olympics Maine hosts more than 64 events year-round that give individuals with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to participate and compete in more than 28 Olympic sports.

Work First partook in two of Monday’s first events, the 50-meter and 100-meter snowshoe time trials.

Work First specializes in providing social and work-skill day programs for adults with disabilities, but coaches say the Special Olympics has added benefits.

“You see a whole different side of them (at the games) than in our day program,” coach Jenny Macomber said. “They’re a lot more outgoing. They’re making new friends.”

Several teams had already completed their time trials when Work First athletes hit the snow track at 9:15 a.m., but they were determined after practicing for weeks and developing their own methods that would bring them to victory.

“You have to walk like Bigfoot,” Marc Shink, a Work First team member said. This method allowed him to place first in his round of time trials for the 50-meter snowshoe event.

Time trials are held for all of the sporting events at the Winter Games to break down the athletes into groups of fair, comparable athletic ability. The final races for snowshoeing will be held Tuesday morning.

Buck wouldn’t share what her snowshoe method was. Instead she smiled and said confidently, “I’m not telling my secrets.”

Buck lined up with three other athletes for her 50-meter time trial and quickly darted out ahead of the pack with a look of determination on her face and a shower of snow trailing behind her as she raced for the finish line, placing first.

Ten minutes later she placed first in her time trial for the 100-meter snowshoe race as well.

Work First head coach Martha McClure said over the four years she has participated in the Winter Games with the group, she enjoys seeing how individuals have improved athletically and socially through the games.

“I like seeing our folks in a different environment,” McClure said. “It gives them confidence in themselves, and it’s good for them as a team cheering everyone on. It’s very good to see the ones (who) from year to year improve.”

Work First’s team includes Buck, Shink, Scotty Yeaton, Noele Brown, Sherrie Zlotnic and two newcomers, Megan Viles and Mark Gordon. The ages of the team members range from 19 to almost 60.

While the only sporting event the Work First team competes in are Monday’s morning time trials and Tuesday’s final races, their schedule is packed with activities through Tuesday’s closing ceremony.

“They’re done (with) all their business, and now it’s all fun,” McClure said.

Buck cheered on the fun events as McClure listed off their schedule for the rest of the day, which included snowmobiles rides, the Opening Ceremony parade, a dance and a fireworks display Monday night.

At noon, the 63 teams participating in the winter games lined up outside the Base Lodge for the Opening Ceremony Parade of Athletes.

Lisa Bird, director of public relations for Special Olympics Maine, announced every team as they walked across the patio outside of the Base Lodge with the ski mountain behind them.

Spirits were high and applause was loud despite strong wind that prevented the lighting of the Special Olympics torch, which typically marks the end to the Opening Ceremony.

Bird said the winter games offer an opportunity for all Mainers to partake in one of the state’s most exciting seasons.

“We’re in Maine. It’s winter half the year. This is an opportunity for our athletes to enjoy everything Maine has to offer. The sports are exciting,” Bird said.

Athletes at the Winter Games can choose to participate in alpine skiing, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and speed skating races. Following each final race in all of the events, first, second, and third place will be awarded on the Special Olympics podium with medals.

“Our athletes work really hard and are excited to show their stuff,” Bird said.”It’s important to have just as many opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities as those who don’t.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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