Special Olympic athlete Nicholas Habitch prepares for his race.

On Saturday, February 4, Ski Butternut hosted the Alpine Time Trials for the Special Olympics. This is the first time that Ski Butternut has hosted the event which usually takes place at Blandford Ski area. Lift tickets were donated by SkiButternut to each of the approximately 72 registered athletes and the event was organized by Pat White. This alpine skiing and snowboarding assessment for racers will culminate at the Winter Games in March.

The winter season at Special Olympics Massachusetts runs from mid-November to mid-March. During this time over 3,000 Special Olympic athletes train and participate in a variety of sports and events including alpine skiing, snowboarding, basketball, figure skating, floor hockey, Nordic skiing, ten pin bowling and speed skating.

The Special Olympics is a global organization that changes lives by promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion among people with and without disabilities. Founding in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides people with disabilities continuing opportunity to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendships.  One mother who I spoke with, whose son has been a Special Olympic athlete for the past five years, said that she registers her son for and attends as many regional events or competitions as possible because the events are such self esteem

enhancers for her son. “I’ve stood in single digit temperatures to watch him race. But I don’t mind,” she said. “The result is so worth it and he’s made so many friends from around the state.”

Special Olympic World Games are held every two years alternating with summer and winter games. There are competitive opportunities in 32 athletic disciplines. The next Special Olympic World Games will be held on March 14-25 in Graz, Schladmig and Ramsau, Austria.

Outside of the world games, Special Olympic athletic competitions are held year round, worldwide. In fact, in 2015 an average of 222 athletic competitions, such as the alpine trials at Butternut, were held daily around the world. 4.7 million athletes compete in the World Games or in one of the many regional events. This number however, represents only 13% of the estimated number of people with disabilities.  The goal is to reach as many potential athletes as possible – and the number of participants is growing.

On this particular beautiful but chilly Saturday morning, I was honored to watch many of the Special Olympic athletes and to speak with them and their families. One athlete in particular is Great Barrington’s own Nicholas Habitch.

Nicholas participated in the day’s time trials at the intermediate level which took place on the Main Street trail at Butternut. Nicholas has been an avid snow sports enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He started skiing at the age of five and switched to snowboarding when he was 13 years old. Nicholas has never looked back and is out on the mountain snowboarding whenever he can. Nicholas also competes in the annual Mountain Dew Challenge, which also takes place at Butternut. He has won several blue ribbons at this event.

You can’t walk away from an event like this without feeling delight and inspiration. Every athlete who I spoke with was happy with his or her results, and with good reason. They are gifted and talented athletes. I happen to be lucky enough to be so inspired on a regular basis because Nicholas Habitch is also my good friend.