Ober Gatlinburg hosts Special Olympics Winter Games

Feb. 02, 2014 @ 11:59 PM

More than 150 athletes from across the state traveled to the top of the mountain this week for the 29th annual Special Olympics Tennessee Winter Games at Ober Gatlinburg.

"They talk about it all year long," said first-year local Area 10 speed-skating coach Magge Curey, an assistant special education teacher at Seymour High School. "This is what the kids have been looking forward to since August when we started school.

"They’ve been telling me all about it, and they’ve been asking me all along if I was going to coach it, so I volunteered. It’s a lot of fun and something that’s rewarding, and it’s something we’ll never forget."

Nine local Special Olympians, including three ice skaters and six skiers, competed this year.

Curey instructed Tony Davis, Kiara Sweeny and Jared Pfhol on the ice and was pleased with the effort she saw from her students.

"I was very impressed with them," said Curey. "All three of them did the 25-meter and 50-meter races, and they did very, very well."

But the competition is just one aspect of the three-day experience, which includes hotel stays, group meals, ceremonies and a dance at the Gatlinburg Convention Center.

"There’s all kinds of fun things for them to do, not just always focusing on their sporting events," said Curey. "They have some downtime to have some fun and just hang out in Gatlinburg."

Seventh-year Sevier County Special Olympics coordinator Betsy Edmond, a four-year veteran of the Winter Games, always enjoys the experience at Ober.

"It’s an absolutely wonderful event," said Edmond. "To watch the kids start terrified and advance to accomplishment is fantastic. The kids love it."

The 2014 Area 10 team boasted six skiers including multi-year veterans Rocky Huskey, Johnnie Eden and Mary Sutton, along with newcomers Shawn McClure, Meagan Wilson and Alexis Dotter.

Sutton, a junior at Seymour High School, is an advocate for the Winter Games and encourages younger students to give Special Olympics a shot.

"At first some of them say, ‘I’m never coming,’ but then sometimes they actually come," explained Sutton. "And then I say, ‘See, it’s fun,’ and they say, ‘Yes, it’s true.’"

Sutton entered the 2014 Games with six Winter Olympics medals already to her credit, including a gold. After competing as an ice speed skater her first year, she made the switch to skis.

"I like skiing better, because it’s a lot easier than ice skating," laughed Sutton, who noted that a skiing wreck is less painful than an ice skating fall.

Perhaps her favorite part of the annual event comes outside of the competition.

"I like to meet new people and have fun," said Sutton. "It’s just fun to meet new people."

Eden, a graduate of Sevier County High School, is another four-year Winter Games veteran who has a need for speed on the ski slopes ... even though obtaining that speed sometimes comes with a physical cost.

"I love skiing," explained Eden, despite suffering some "ice burns" from a fall while practicing on the black-diamond Grizzly slope on Monday. "I went down Grizzly nine times, and it got me one of those times."

The games kicked off with a dinner and opening ceremonies at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, hosted by the American Legion Post 202. In attendance were University of Tennessee athletes.

The 2014 Winter Games were coordinated by ghe Gatlinburg Snow Sports Center, Ober Gatlinburg Ice Skating Arena and Ober Gatlinburg. The American Legion Post 202 and Auxiliary Unit, Gatlinburg Department of Tourism and Convention Center, Flav-O-Rich, Sidney James Mountain Lodge, Smoky Mountain Ski Club, Sysco, Walgreens, American Eagle Outfitters and Alcoa Civitan Club were supporters of this year’s event.

More than 14,000 athletes participate in Tennessee Special Olympics, which provides year-round training and competition in 19 sports.

Final results of the 2014 Winter Games can be found at www.specialolympicstn.org.