| Special Olympics snowboarder Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City
Next week, there’s a super little event down in New Orleans that will occupy thousands of reporters, camera crews and beignet-consuming, bead-throwing party-goers. You won’t be able to escape it.
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, another major sports event will be going on, too. If you read anything about it in your local newspaper, however, it’s likely to be buried back in the very back pages. It’s unlikely to command a fraction of the television time, if that, that Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick will.
Jim and John Harbaugh against one another for Vince Lombardi’s trophy makes for a great tale, for sure. But you want a story? On display Thursday night at a Los Angeles hotel were hundreds – literally — of stories of pride, perseverance, dedication, discipline and overcoming the odds.
Indeed, it was all genuine emotion and heartfelt enthusiasm as the 150 Special Olympics athletes made their way down a red-carpet introduction before a send-off dinner.
“To see the joy — it makes me want to cry,” said Julie Foudy, the soccer star turned television analyst, who was on hand to help the athletes cruise the carpet.
“And,” she said, “scream, ‘U-S-A!’”
Some 2,300 Special Olympics athletes from more than 110 nations are due to compete in Pyeongchang in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, short-track speedskating, figure skating, floor hockey and the demonstration sport of floorball.
Organizers expect perhaps 15,000 fans and family to attend.
Just like the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Special Olympics run on a two-year cycle. The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles.
In Pyeongchang, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is due to attend some of the Special Olympics action while checking out some of the already-built venues for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games; he will be joined by Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC coordination commission for the 2018 Games. They are set to be briefed by, among others, Pyeongchang 2018 chief Jin Sun Kim.
Also traveling to Korea with Rogge are the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper, as well as IOC Games executive director Gilbert Felli and sports director Christophe Dubi.
Rogge is also due Feb. 1 to meet with South Korea’s president-elect, Geun Hye Park.
That’s obviously big stuff.
But one wonders — bigger, really, than what awaits, say, U.S. snowboarders Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., or Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City?
Perhaps more than anything, the Special Olympics is about breaking down stereotypes. Yes, they rip it on snowboards at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, and in disciplines such as slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
“A lot of people don’t know that,” Lodder, who has been boarding for five years, said.
“When I work at Home Depot and I tell them I am in the Special Olympics,” he said, a smile across his face, “they are really supportive. They are really good about it.”
Shilts — the others uniformly said she was fastest on the American team — has been snowboarding for six years.
At first, she said of learning to ride, “It was rough. It was hard.” She quickly added, “But if a sport is not hard, it’s not a sport.”
A substitute aide for special-needs children, Shilts said this would be her first trip overseas. “I just say this will be challenging and fun and new and exciting,” she said.
And one other thing. She said, “I’m going to win.”