Special Olympics cycling event a success in Vail Valley
EDWARDS — A true sporting atmosphere surrounded Special Olympics competitors Saturday as fans with cowbells lined the parking lot of Battle Mountain High School for the Western Region Cycling Competition.
The competition was the first Special Olympics cycling event ever in Eagle County, attracting 15 competitors, many of them local. In years past, the western regional took place in Grand Junction.
In addition to the shorter travel time, the cooler weather also represented a welcome change.
“We would always prepare for it to be 95 or 100 degrees,” said Jim Haeffner, whose daughter Sara has been competing in Special Olympics for decades. “When we started today, I looked at my watch, and it said it was 73.”
Sara competed in the 5K race, as well as the 1K time trial. Her sister, Abby Hugill, came in from Evergreen with Sara’s two nephews, 8-year-old Quinn and 6-year-old Wyatt, to watch.
“It’s the first time in a number of years where we’ve been able to see her,” Abby said.
A well-known local who works at City Market, Sara was able to garner quite a fan following for Saturday’s event.
“Other locals showed up and made signs for Sara,” said her mother, Karen Haeffner. “t was a fantastic turnout. “
Sara’s parents said that after local cyclist Tara Picklo started coaching the Eagle County-based Wolfpack Special Olympics cycling team seven years ago, the group has grown especially close.
With 13 athletes on the team, it made sense to bring the competition to Eagle County, and after a few years of trying, Picklo was able to pull it off this year.
Special Olympics Western Region supervisor Julie Fite, speaking from the event on Saturday, said the Edwards cycling competition was “the beginning of something great.”
Fite said the supporters who turned out on Saturday made the event a success.
“It was amazing,” Fite said. “The community came out — that’s the thing. It shows a lot of people care about and are interested in Special Olympics.”
Lots of help
Fite has held the position since 1989 and will be retiring this year. Volunteers celebrated her career Saturday. She said she felt good leaving with people like Picklo helping to put on events like the Western Region Cycling Competition.
Picklo said it went well this year because she had Fite’s help.
“You’re gonna do great,” Fite told Picklo.
Picklo said she had help from “the huge hearts and helpful hands” of locals Lisa and Lance Schober, Daryn Ostendorf, Steve Hackling, Jen Spinelli, Eileen Connelly, Kate Allan, Shaun Martin and Patty Perkins.
Picklo also said more help will be needed as the Wolfpack hopes to make the Edwards competition an annual event.
“We had the support to try it here, but to keep it here, we’re going to need more help, more coaches, more volunteers, more people to keep it out there and keep it rolling,” Picklo said
In addition to the many other coaches, volunteers, families and supporters, Starbucks, Village Bagels, Costco and Moe’s also helped out, as well.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Vail Police Department provided services, with officer Craig Westering jogging alongside the athletes to ensure that they crossed the finish line safely.
“I needed that,” Westering said of the effort.
To get involved with the Wolfpack and Special Olympics cycling in Eagle County, contact Picklo at firstname.lastname@example.org.