Special Olympian in critical condition
That achievement has been a little harder for the 28-year-old Vail Special Olympian than for most. But, even though he has a developmental disability, Switala – with the help of counselors from Mountain Valley Developmental Services – he lives a life as independently as anyone in the valley.
“From where Billy started from five and a half years ago, he’s come a long way,” says case manager Teri Smith. “Now he’s the Special Olympics gold medal king and he works really hard with Vail Resorts.”
Switala was riding in a Ford Explorer that spun out of control Wednesday afternoon, rolling over twice and crashing on its side in an irrigation pond along Interstate 70 near Gypsum.
After being rushed to Vail Valley Medical Center, he was airlifted to Denver General Hospital, where as of Thursday night remains in critical condition on life support in the intensive care unit.
His longtime counselor, Charlene Thomsen-Rounds, was driving the Explorer and was killed in the crash.
“Billy’s come a long way because Char never gave up on him,” Smith says.
Just two weeks ago, Switala was looking forward to playing soccer and cycling in the Colorado Special Olympics in May. Before participating in last month’s Special Olympics torch run in Avon, he said he was excited for his fellow Special Olympic athletes.
“I’m proud of them and I’m also proud of myself,” Switala said. “I’d like the community to get to know us and support us every way they can.”
Switala, an accomplished snowrider, his friends says, volunteered for two years with the Avon-based Snowboard Outreach Society, also known as SOS. The program attempts to help at-risk kids from the valley and elsewhere get their lives back on track through the joy –and discipline –of snowboarding.
“He’s so proud he went to the Special Olympics and won a gold medal and he’s so proud of being a part of SOS,” says Betsy Mueller, the program coordinator in Vail. “He’s always trying to find himself a new activity.”
Switala also won multiple gold medals in snowboarding at the World Games in Alaska in 2000.
“He pushes himself to reach his full potential,” says Ann Deyarmond, another case manager who worked with Switala.
Switala also has worked as a ticket scanner and in ski school for Vail Resorts.
“Me and Billy are like brothers,” says Larry Vasquez, who is also in Mountain Valley’s Vail program. “Sometimes we fight, but it’s always about something stupid. I’m really happy he was working for Vail Resorts and that he got to go to the Special Olympics.”
Vasquez went to the World Special Olympics in 1999 and Switala went in 2000.
“We’d pal around saying we were the two “World Games boys,'” Vasquez says.
Switala is also known as a handyman.
“Billy’s always the resident handyman,” Mueller says. “If something needs fixing, he fixes it.”
And Switala is a guy the others in the Vail program can depend on, Vasquez says.
“If you need advice, he’s the guy you’d talk to,” Vasquez says.