Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lending a hand, receiving more

Volunteers share in joy of Special Olympics

Josie Allison and Maebrianna Webb, both students from The Community School students share a dance with Special Olympics athlete John Halliday from New Zealand on Friday night at The Community School’s gymnasium. Students from schools around the Wood River Valley have been supporting the athletes with everything from cheering loudly to escorting snowboarders up the chairlifts on Dollar Mountain. Photo by Willy Cook

On Monday afternoon, the Special Olympics snowboard athletes weren't the only ones enjoying a warm bluebird day on Sun Valley's Dollar Mountain, though they were certainly the center of attention.

"Even without speaking the language, it's easier to communicate than you would think," said Hailey Zanes, whose years of Spanish classes were rendered moot when riding up the chairlift with a female member of the German delegation but who managed to converse nonetheless. "When she said 'Heaven is blue today,' it was easy enough to understand."

Zane was one of a number of high school juniors from the nearby Community School who hit the slopes to escort the athletes up the mountain.

"All the diversity up here is amazing," Zane said. "I went up the chair with a Korean snowboarder who was so excited to be here. He went down the hill like a silver bullet."

Ryan Waterfield, a Community School faculty member supervising Zane and her fellow classmates, said the interaction with the athletes provided the students with a great opportunity to practice their language skills.

"This event has brought places from around the world to (the students)," Waterfield said. "In return, they get to help the athletes have the time of their lives."

Waterfield also emphasized the importance of sharing diversity, a sentiment loudly echoed by Mat Gershater, one of two announcers at the snowboard event.

Interviewing a class of fifth graders from Hemingway Elementary School, Gershater asked them to explain how they are both different and the same from each other, eliciting an excited response from the students, who had spent the past hour cheering as each athlete passed on the chairlift overhead.

"It's all about celebrating differences," Gershater told the students.

Brad Stansberry, a fifth grade teacher at Hemingway Elementary School, said his class had received a visit from two New Zealand athletes last week and quickly overcame any hesitation brought on by the unfamiliar and were soon hurling a barrage of questions at the athletes.

"They've been really into it," Stansberry said. "In the beginning it was a part of the population they weren't familiar with, but now they're extremely supportive and excited for the athletes."

Jon Duval:

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