WATERVILLE VALLEY — Despite the cold weather and a slight technical problem with the Olympic cauldron, the 38th annual Special Olympics New Hampshire Winter Games, which wrapped up earlier this week, are being hailed as a success by athletes and organizers alike.
The 2014 games featured a record 362 athletes who competed in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.
Culminating Tuesday afternoon, the games began Sunday evening with an opening ceremony in the Town Square at Waterville Valley that featured a first-ever flyover by a New Hampshire State Police helicopter, a parade of emergency vehicles and the arrival of the Olympic flame by snowmobile.
Although the flame itself was fine, the cauldron fell victim to the frigid temperatures. That, however, was the only mildly disappointing moment during the entire games, said Carrie Hill, who is the SONH's director of development.
"We had lots of athletes going home with medals and ribbons and we're happy to close out the 38th winter games," Hill said, adding that the SONH is already looking forward to the 2015 games but more immediately, to the fundraisers which make them and all the organization's programs possible.
The SONH has an annual operating budget of about $2 million, of which the Law Enforcement Torch Run raised more than $300,000 in 2013, said Hill. Since the torch run began working with the SONH in 1985, it has cumulatively raised more than $3 million. The SONH counts some 5,600 participants in its programs, including both athletes and unified partners.
The SONH's fundraising season began on Feb. 2 with the 15th annual Penguin Plunge at Hampton Beach. That event brought in about $600,000, said Hill, who noted that the second fundraiser of 2014 will be held this weekend in Laconia at the Margate Resort, which again is hosting the Winni Dip.
For a sixth consecutive year, the 2014 Winni Dip on Saturday will feature scores of police officers who'll plunge into the cold waters of Paugus Bay, which is the southern extension of Lake Winnipesaukee, as well as the first ever High School Dip on Sunday.
Immediately after the Winni Dip, a number of officers are expected to get a good, close shave courtesy of Polished & Proper Barbershop & Shave Parlor of Laconia.
As an added revenue source for the Dip, Hill said some police departments have let their officers grow beards in exchange for an additional $100 donation to the Special Olympics.
"This is the first time we're doing it but we're hoping it'll grow, pardon the pun," said Hill.
Hundreds of participants and spectators are expected to be at the Winni Dip but not Benjamin Demers.
"It's too cold," explained Demers, who competed in the winter games at Waterville Valley and has his sights set on the May 29-31 state summer games at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
At the summer games, Demers, who lives in Pelham and skis out of Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, will participate in the 400-meter, breaststroke and relay competitions.
Demers began skiing seven years ago and has attended the winter games every year since.
"I did good," said Demers on Tuesday afternoon. This year, he was entered in the Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super Giant Slalom events and took home a fourth and fifth place ribbons.
Winning is nice, said his mom, Colleen, but the Special Olympics are about much more. Benjamin finished her thought, saying they're "about love and sharing love with friends."
It was two Special Olympics friends who convinced him to give up snowshoeing in favor of cross country then alpine skiing, said Demers, adding that collectively they're known as "The Three Stooges," although they also answer to "the three knuckleheads."
Demers was disappointed that the winter games cauldron couldn't be lit, but said he nonetheless had a great time in Waterville Valley.