Saturday was one of those almost but not quite days for the Campbell County boys soccer team. Top-ranked and consensus favorite to win the Class 4A state soccer tournament, the Camels fell just …
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — To go to the Special Olympics World Games, athletes must train and practice to earn the gold or silver medal in their respective sport in their regional competition.
Then the winners must have their names drawn by lottery to be eligible for the world games.
This year, two skiers from Jackson, Mona Sobieski and Alex Moreno, won their chance to compete with other athletes from around the world in the 2013 Special Olympics World Games, which start Jan. 29 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Since returning from training in Lake Placid, N.Y., Alex and Sobieski have been anxiously awaiting the day they will board a plane to participate in the alpine skiing portion of the winter games. During the wait, they took time from their busy training schedules to chat about how they will tackle the mountains in South Korea.
Alex, 15, an eighth-grade student at Jackson Hole Middle School, has been skiing since the fourth grade when a teacher encouraged him to get involved in the Special Olympics games.
Alex started like every other beginner, pivoting on the bunny slopes until he could turn and correctly fall. His coaches helped him work his way up to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's gondola and tram. Now the lifts help him access his favorite slopes.
Alex's parents, Ceclio and Adela, were supportive of their son's newfound interest in skiing. He and his dad frequent Teton Village on the weekends together. However, neither parent expected Alex to be traveling internationally, on his own, for the world games.
Alex came home to tell his mother and father the good news about being selected in the lottery. Adela Moreno remembers how she thought he was kidding around until his teacher called to discuss details.
They were surprised at the news but extremely proud of Alex being chosen, she said.
When the Morenos put their son on a plane to New York for training Dec. 10, nervousness about sending him overseas in a few weeks set in. Alex will be traveling with teammate Sobieski and coach Brandon Undeburg.
Like his parents, Alex also is a bit nervous. When the teen was dropped off at the airport to attend practice, Ceclio Moreno said, he was almost dizzy with anxiety — a normal emotion for anyone boarding a plane for the first time.
Alex discussed his upcoming plans with confidence as if the fears had subsided. He's got his game face on for the three events he will compete in: giant slalom, regular slalom and super G.
Sobieski will compete in the same events.
She moved to Jackson in 2006. She's been competing in the Special Olympics for 30 years and has never been drawn for the world games. Until now.
Sobieski is an unrelenting driving force. She's been fighting since childhood, when she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and given only a few days to live. At 45 years old, she has proved those doctors wrong.
Sobieski is an equestrian as well as a skier and has won countless awards in regional and state Special Olympics games. Her walls are lined with silver and gold medallions, blue ribbons and photos of her and her family.
As with Alex, Sobieski's family is her support system. Her father, Jim Sobieski, has always enjoyed seeing his daughter succeed when others had doubts.
She went through school and graduated with her high school degree at 21. Watching her brothers and sisters go to college, she realized she wanted to continue her education. She attended Feather River College and completed 32 units.
"Mona's really determined," Jim Sobieski said. "That's the one thing that makes her succeed. She only moves forward."
His daughter is highly focused and precise. That's what makes her excel at skiing.
In Lake Placid, she trained hard and worked her way up to the advanced-level slopes. She and Alex also received their Special Olympics ski gear while training to use exclusively during the games.
Since coming home, Sobieski makes time to hit the slopes between working at Kmart and riding her horse Jake.
It didn't sink in, though, that she'd finally be living a lifelong dream until she handed a folder full of paperwork on her trip to her father to review.
She had another moment of realization when she and Alex piled into the team buses with 151 other U.S. athletes to plow through some powder in New York during training.
"It's an honor," she said, "but when they tell you to do your homework, you do your homework."
Sobieski isn't a bundle of nerves. She's confident in her ability to shine after all her years of practice. She's ready to "get back on the podium."
At the set gates, she says to herself the same thing she whispers to her horse Jake when they compete: "You got this."
Both of Jackson's Special Olympians hope to represent their country while absorbing South Korean culture. And bring home some gold medals.
Of all the last-minute advice and tips given to them, the most important could be from Alex's mother: "Take care of yourself and mind your manners."
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com