Every year, the Special Olympics takes its competitors and turns them into champions, bonds with trainers and teammates are forged and barriers to the finish line are broken down.
Whether it’s from a dangling medal or from working with Olympic-level talent, it’s natural for athletes to come away a little starstruck from the events.
During today’s figure skating and dance compulsories competition at Cambria County War Memorial Arena, athletes will share the ice with a U.S. Figure Skating Team pair and their high-flying routine.
Adriene Petrillo, 20, of York County, has been volunteering with the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania for eight years. But she’s been on the ice much longer than that. Petrillo, beyond attaining the highest skill level in figure skating (senior ladies) is also a U.S. Figure Skating Association double gold medalist.
“The people you see on TV - those are the people I compete against,” she said.
Together with her boyfriend, 19-year-old William Ott of York County, the duo will be putting on - and recording - a honed routine that they hope will be their “big break.”
“It’s like a tryout video for Disney On Ice,” she said. “So, we’re going to send it to Disney and, hopefully, get a job.”
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Petrillo and Ott have known Lin Huber, the SOPA figure skating sports director, for a number of years. Ott works the dancing music while Petrillo coaches the athletes on posture and form.
“A lot of my athletes have never seen a group number before,” said Huber.
She said she hopes Tuesday’s performance will instill in them “a sense of pride and joy for competition and friendship.”
Kelly Gesullo of Chester County is a 20-year Special Olympics competitor. She said working with Petrillo on the Canasta tango and the Dutch waltz were high points, but getting to watch them at full-tilt was an inspiration.
“I think they’re going to do great,” she said. “Hopefully, some day I’ll (be that good.)”
And with discipline, anyone can, according to Petrillo.
“That’s like the number one most important thing,” she said. “It’s just a tricky sport. If you don’t want to put in the discipline and the hard work, then you’re not going to get any results.
“With figure-skating, it’s all you. It’s all your hard work paying off for you, so it’s very self-rewarding.”
She also said she’s garnered a reputation as the “mean” coach - named so for her intense, shouting lessons - but she maintains that figure skating is all about pushing yourself.
“I like seeing what I can do, seeing how much I can do,” she said. “I’m a disciplined person and I’m a hard worker and I try to push that on my kids.”
Jessica Rhodes of Erie City, an 8-year Special Olympian, left the Arena after learning two new dances and receiving a skill level-up for her competitive event. After watching Petrillo and Ott’s routine, she was positively beaming.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I’m going to keep going. I’m not stopping. Now I’m a Level 1, so this is my big break.”