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Special Olympians Taylor Barton of Fairlee,Vt., Justin Nikias of Goffstown, and Jessica Dexter of Goffstown receive their medals from state law enforcement officers. (DAN SEUFERT PHOTO)

Athletes make 37th annual winter games special

WATERVILLE VALLEY - Jason "A-Train" Kimball was rummaging around the base of the ski trails Tuesday afternoon, greeting and cheering dozens of athletes as they finished their competitions and gathered to see who won gold, silver, and bronze medals.

Kimball, 40, of Manchester, has been a volunteer at the New Hampshire Special Olympic winter and summer games for the past 30 years, ever since he finished his years of competing in Special Olympic events, he said.

He comes back to help each year because there's something special going on at these contests. The athletes, who face life challenges for a variety of reasons, are not fiercely competing with each other. In fact, they all get medals for their efforts, whether finishing first or last.

Everyone - athletes, volunteers, and law enforcement officers who volunteer to present medals - enjoy the games' ski, snowshoe and snowboard races immensely, and it only gets better when they reach the medal platform.

"It makes me so happy when they get their first medal," Kimball said. "There's nothing like that feeling, they work so hard for these games and then they enjoy them so much. I keep coming back for that feeling."

Justin Nikias of Goffstown, who has won gold for finishing first in previous races, won gold again Tuesday riding a snow board on the Giant Slalom. He has been working hard while training for the games, he said.

"It's nice to see the work pay off," he said.

Jessica Dexter, 16, of Goffstown, who won a bronze medal Tuesday for snowboarding, said a big part of the fun is competing against others who also have faced challenges. There is an acceptance among athletes, a feeling of belonging that they don't always have in their lives, she said.

"To compete against other kids like me is fun, we have so much fun together," she said.

A 20-member volunteer management team ran the two-day event with the help of 150 volunteers from 33 special programs from New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Among the 317 athletes at the games, 101 competed in alpine skiing contests, 157 in snowshoeing events, 42 in cross-country skiing, and 17 in snowboarding.

Also playing an important role are law enforcement officers from departments around the state, who made the trip to the games to act as mentors and role models as they awarded the medals. They come out of a sense of duty, but they share the athletes enjoyment enormously, said Merrimack Police Officer Mike Murray.

"This is the best police therapy there is," Murray said. "In law enforcement we see the darker side of life too often. Here, you get back as much reward as you put in the event, and it's nothing but good stuff, everyone is smiling."


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