Medals? Who cares? |

Medals? Who cares?

Preston Utley/Vail DailyMelea Riley skates during the Special Olympics figure skating competition Monday at Dobson Arena in Vail.

VAIL ” Town of Vail bus driver Josh Butler was enjoying some quiet time with his laptop computer in the Dobson Ice Arena Monday morning. It’s not widely known, but the arena has a strong wireless Internet signal and Butler was busy working on some homework.

So deep was his concentration that he was taken off guard the when the front doors of the arena burst open and more than 40 Special Olympic Colorado athletes, along with their coaches, family and friends invaded Butler’s solitude to hold their annual speed and figure skating competitions.

But Butler wasn’t bothered by the interruption. Instead, he saw an opportunity to help out. He volunteered his time to the Olympians, and they put him to work.

Butler even told his bus driving colleagues to announce the Special Olympic event when they stopped at in front of the ice rink.

A couple hours later, Butler took a break to climb to the top of the stands to cheer on the figure skaters. His were the loudest cheers and whistles that echoed through the arena.

“All these guys, it’s amazing what they’re doing here,” the North Carolina native said. “I can’t believe I’ve never done this before.”

Medals? Who cares

Jocelyn Mann of Aurora took to the ice for her compulsory program. Having struck up a friendship with the athlete with Down Syndrome, Butler whipped out his camera and started snapping.

Unlike a freestyle program, which takes about two minutes and is set to music, the compulsory program is a much shorter series of required moves without any musical accompaniment.

In just seconds Mann was taking a bow.

“All right,” Butler yelled down to the ice, clapping furiously. Pocketing his camera, Butler scrambled down the stairs to congratulate Mann. She grinned broadly at her triumph on the ice, despite not knowing how she had scored or if had placed.

“Most of them could care less about the medals,” said head coach Karen Schleu, whose daughter, Mallory, competed against Mann.

Last one off the ice

Fifteen-year-old Melea Riley has earned a slew of medals in the six years she’s competed in Special Olympics Colorado, but this year, she was more excited about painting her nails than competing.

“That’s the most fun part for her,” said her mother and coach Shana Riley as Melea shyly showed off her pink and red fingernails. “We look forward to this all year.”

Born with tuberous sclerosis, Melea Riley has dealt with multiple seizures daily since she was 10 months old. But everything changed about six years ago when Shana Riley’s friend suggested they take their kids ice skating.

“And I said, ‘I don’t know. She’s never been ice skating before,'” Shana Riley said. “Melea couldn’t ride a bike or roller skate, and my friend Lisa said, ‘Oh, come on,’ so we did. Two hours later, (Melea) didn’t want to get off the ice.”

Melea Riley’s neurologist introduced her to Schleu’s skating program at Denver University, which donates ice time to Special Olympics Colorado, and the girl has been hooked ever since.

“She’s the kid who when you get out on the ice, she’s the last one off,” Shana Riley said.

‘A whole new outlook’

Once physically weak, skating has built Melea Riley’s muscle tone and endurance. In a sparkly, dark-blue skating costume, Melea Riley gracefully skated backwards, extending her leg precisely.

The repetition of practicing a skating routine again and again has also built her concentration and made the painfully shy girl more outgoing.

“She was not a social creature,” Shana Riley said. “She could not hold eye contact.”

Now, in addition to competing by herself, Melea Riley competes in pairs skating and has performed in ice shows ” her father even joined her for one show.

“It’s really brought our family together, I’d have to say,” Shana Riley said. “This skating has just really given us all stuff.”

Of course, Melea Riley’s progress is not the product of skating alone. She has a stimulator implanted in her arm and takes anticonvulsants to help mitigate her seizures.

Because puberty can worsen seizures, doctors have removed Melea Riley’s ability to produce estrogen. As a result, the teenager still looks like a child, but she also doesn’t lose consciousness when she has a seizure anymore, which at the end of the day allows her to spend more time on her beloved ice.

“All of it put together has really made a difference,” Shana Riley said. “Special Olympics has just given us a whole new outlook on life.”

– Summer Games, June 3 and 4, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley

– Summer Classic, Aug. 12 and 13, Lakewood

– Fall Classic, Nov. 11, Denver

A full schedule of all competition in Colorado is available at the Special Olympics Colorado Office at (303) 592-1364 or

Each year Special Olympics Colorado relies on more than 6,000 volunteers to make the games happen. Special Olympics Colorado can use the help of individuals, groups and corporations.

As a nonprofit group, Special Olympics Colorado relies on donations and contributions to keep its programs alive. For more information, contact the Special Olympics Colorado office at (303) 592-1364 or

Special Olympics currently serves more than one million with developmental disabilities people in 150 counties, but that’s only a fraction of the total number of people eligible for the program. Special Olympics Colorado provides training and competition for more than 7,000 disabled children and adults in a variety of Olympic sports.

Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1963, Special Olympics began as a day camp program for children with disabilities. Five years later, Shriver organized the first International Summer Special Olympics Games in Chicago, aided by The Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or

Vail, Colorado

One thousand athletes from the United States, Canada and France arrived in Chicago to compete, and the competition has continued to grow since then.

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