The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 10, 2014

Shining moments: Dreams come true for Special Olympians

JOHNSTOWN — Jose Talavera said he feels the spirit of the Special Olympics is self-improvement – learning sportsmanship, experiencing the camaraderie of friendly competition and pushing the limits of the possible.

The Bethlehem City man has watched his 32-year-old daugher, Joni, twirl on the ice for more than 10 years through the annual statewide figure skating competitions. Her athletic career has taken her to Maryland, Canada and all over Pennsylvania. Of her medals, he said, there are too many to count.

Beyond the Olympic accolades, however, he said her love of sport has, through the years, manifested in myriad ways and been a strong developmental influence.

“The whole sportsmanship concept and rooting for the underdog and helping your competitor – all of these things are new concepts that she wouldn’t have come across if it hadn’t been for athletic competition,” he said.

It all started 20 years ago when Joni laced up her first pair of skates – roller skates. After reaching the peak competitive class in the sport, she was urged toward figure skating and the Winter Games. Although she’s been active – and highly scored – on the ice for more than 10 years, she never stopped exploring all the Special Olympics has to offer.

This year, she’s off to New Jersey for the first time to compete. But the agility she found at the rink won’t be of any use. Joni is going to a national powerlifting competition.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s another place to see,” said the four-year Olympic lifter. “It’s a whole new world ... scents to smell and sights to see.”

And competitors to crush. Joni’s mother, Maria, said her daughter can dead lift 245 pounds – to the audible shock of those nearby who overheard.

“It gives you more back strength, more stomach strength and more leg strength,” Joni said.

Joni has vied in bench press, squat and dead lift Special Olympics events in Bigler, Clearfield and Villanova. She said she also holds a black belt in karate, which she’s practiced for eight years for exercise, self-defense and “for the fun.”

The 2014 Winter Games are figure skating coach Kacie Hildebrand’s second trip to the War Memorial. Each athlete has their own personal trainer who helps them devise their routines and perfect their technique.

“It’s fun because you get to teach the athletes different things (and watch them) progress through and evolve into bigger things,” she said.

Jose Talavera said it’s the selfless nature of the volunteer coaches that gives the Special Olympics such an impact on its competitors.

“The athletes pick up on a lot of this,” he said.

He said Joni has been working with the severely disabled through Mercy Special Learning Center in Allentown, helping them find their legs on the ice and discover just what they’re capable of.

“They’re nervous,” said Joni, whose job is to help them find their balance and skate without assistance. Jose said they’ve been helping them train every Thursday morning for four years. Although some never learn to skate, he said, they often get better at walking.

“It’s nice to see them skate without the help of walls,” Joni said.

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Flower2 Flowers' color doesn't have to fade

    Those pots of bright yellow daffodils, Easter lilies and hyacinths gracing the home this weekend do not have to end up in the trash bin when the blooms start to fade.

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • Refinancing could lower Richland School District's debt by $2.2M

    When Richland School District borrowed funds for its high school project a decade ago, board members circled “2014” on their calendars as a likely first option to refinance the debt.

    April 20, 2014

  • Pipeline to carry shale byproducts

    An 8-inch transmission line crossing Pennsylvania, including four municipalities in Cambria County, is being repurposed to carry some of the by-products from Marcellus and Utica shale production.

    April 20, 2014

  • Judge Creany, Timothy Vets courts gain support

    Signs of success are mostly anecdotal in Pennsylvania’s special courts for veterans, but judicial officials and lawmakers are so convinced of the program, they’re lobbying to expand it.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • pow21 Person of the Week: ‘I wanted to help’: Teen uses birthday to show love for children, animals

    Anastasia Machik’s love for children and animals inspired her to forgo her birthday gifts for the sake of the two.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Students taking steps to call attention to child abuse

    An upcoming community walk will help raise awareness of child abuse.

    April 20, 2014

  • In brief: PennDOT reports weekly work schedule

    April 20, 2014

  • District Deaths April 21, 2014

    April 20, 2014

  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads