The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 10, 2014

Special Olympics racers take off

JOHNSTOWN — It’s all about speed at Planet Ice.

As the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games opened in the area on Monday, 37 speed skaters took to the ice at the Richland Township rink, trying their best to secure a place in the finals.

“The athletes want to race and achieve what they’ve set out to do,” said Bob Halden, the speed skating competition director. “Winning a medal is one thing, but we want the athletes to take home good memories and have a great time.”

The athletes compete in individual and relay races from 25 to 1,500 meters and are grouped by age, gender and ability level.

Candace Ramsdell, 29, is competing in her fourth winter games and said the way she prepares is by increasing the amount of time she practices leading up to the event.

“I practice every day,” said Ramsdell, who is a member of the Chester County team. “I come prepared to win.”

Ramsdell, who also participates in bowling at the state Summer Olympic Games, added that besides competing her favorite part is the awards ceremony and making new friends.

Hillary McFadden, who has been blind since birth, has been speed skating since 2001.

“It’s really exciting, and I like being a part of team,” the 30-year-old Dauphin County resident said. “I’m doing what other blind people can’t do, so I’m amazing.”

McFadden said she likes everything about speed skating, especially the motion of it and gaining speed during a race.

“I like feeling free,” she said.

Brianna Wasser, a senior at Central Cambria High School, was volunteering for the first time.

“I heard from people last year who did this and said it was great and really impacted them, and I wanted to be a part of that feeling, too,” she said.

Her job was to offer words of encouragement and cheer the athletes on to victory.

“Win or lose, they’re still smiling and giving you high-fives because they know they’ve accomplished something,” Wasser said. “It makes your day to see the athletes so excited.”

Other events held Monday included cross-country skiing and snowshoe at Blue Knob Ski Resort, alpine skiing at Hidden Valley Four Seasons Resort and figure skating at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena.

Kelly Urban is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/KellyUrban25.

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