The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 18, 2014

Thanks to a special group | Many had hand in Special Olympics

JOHNSTOWN — The region’s recent run of single-digit temperatures could not chill the warmth that Special Olympians showed toward their families, coaches and, particularly, each other.

Johnstown was honored, once again, to host the event. The 2014 version of Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games was the 13th consecutive year that we have hosted the games.

Having two facilities that offer indoor ice surfaces – Cambria County War Memorial Arena in downtown Johnstown and Planet Ice in Richland Township – and ski resorts within an hour’s drive of Greater Johnstown – Blue Knob in Bedford County and Hidden Valley in Somerset County – make the Laurel Highlands an ideal location for the winter games.

Our area’s hotels and motels and our many restaurants and other businesses graciously welcomed the 340-plus Olympians and their families from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The games have been growing steadily in the past several years, and more out-of-state programs have been contacting state officials about participating.

We congratulate the record number of people who showed their Olympic mettle as they bravely, but for others apprehensively, plunged into the freezing waters of the Quemahoning Reservoir as they took part in the annual Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics.

An estimated $70,000 was raised by the 600 or so fearless and foolhardy plungers, which eclipsed last year’s wacky waders by about 150 and cash contributions by $20,000. The money is used to help the state Olympians compete. The overall cost to put on the games is about $100,000 a year, according to Matt Aaron, Special Olympics Pennsylvania president and CEO.

And this year’s contributions will help to keep the Olympic dream burning for the many special athletes.

“This is definitely the largest plunge we’ve had (in Johnstown), in number of plungers and dollars,” he said.

We also want to recognize the many high school and college students and local residents who volunteered their time to assist the athletes. The memories will stay with them for days, weeks and months to come.

“It just makes you feel good about yourself to help out,” Nicole Dunlap, 15, a Greater Latrobe High School student said about her role in the event.

The athletes’ never-give-up attitude was an inspiration to many.

“Win or lose, they’re still smiling and giving you high-fives because they know they’ve accomplished something,” first-year volunteer Brianna Wasser of Central Cambria High School, said. “It makes your day to see the athletes so excited.”

Although the Winter Games wrapped up last week, it’s not too early for residents to mark their calendars for next year’s event and promise themselves they will help out in some way to aid those with special needs become examples to us all.

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