Special Olympics Celebrity Winterfest a three-day celebration | SierraSun.com

Special Olympics Celebrity Winterfest a three-day celebration

Jean Eick

Hollywood celebrities and US Olympians will meet up with business leaders and Special Olympics athletes for Celebrity Winterfest in a day of alpine racing at Diamond Peak Ski Resort and a weekend of community activities at Incline Village March 5-7. Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino is a key sponsor of this first of three annual festivals, and will host numerous open-to-the-public events to raise money for Special Olympics and bring the community together.

While celebrity skiers are a big part of the upcoming Special Olympics Celebrity Winterfest in Incline, the most important part are the Special Olympic athletes and#8212; and there are plenty of locals participating.

Jacqui Gilpin, of Stateline, is a Tahoe native who learned to ski here. She trains regularly with her mother, Donna, and has been a regular at Winterfest for the past five years. Jacqui graduated from South Tahoe High School in June and is now attending Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe. Jacqui is one of the local athletes who will hit the slopes of Diamond Peak for the Special Olympics Celebrity Winterfest.

“She loves skiing and we practice a couple of times a week,” Donna Gilpin said. “This will be her fifth time competing in Winterfest.”

Another Tahoe local athlete is John Lahti of Tahoe City. Mary Lahti, John’s mother, said he works at Safeway, but still finds time to practice regularly and work out. He also assists with a scout troop and helps with the North Tahoe football team. John also is a North Tahoe High School graduate.

Other athletes from the South Lake Tahoe area include Philip Sturgeon, Susie Enos and Michael Cotter.

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Special Olympics was established in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and the International Special Olympics took place in Incline Village in 1989, when 1,400 athletes competed in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure and speed skating and even floor hockey.

Incline Village embraced the Special Olympics by hosting the events at Ski Incline (now Diamond Peak), provided housing and conducting a parade and torchlight parade, said Incline resident Georgia McGregor.

“The credit for bringing the Special Olympics to Incline goes to Marv and Jeannine Karnofsky,” McGregor said.

McGregor was very involved in Incline’s International Special Olympics experience and coordinated housing at Woodstock Condominiums for the event. McGregor said it is now exciting to see the Celebrity Winterfest again bringing Special Olympic athletes to Incline.

Today, Special Olympics, one of the largest and most successful sports and volunteer organizations in the world, has chapters in every state, as well as in more than 180 countries. It serves more than 2.25 million Special Olympics athletes worldwide. There are 47 Northern California counties and 11 Nevada counties with active Special Olympics programs.

Each county program is accredited by Special Olympics Northern California and Nevada, and these programs serve more than 17,000 Special Olympics athletes. The programs conduct sports training and competition, administrative functions and fundraising year round.

Athletes participating in Special Olympics events must meet the eligibility criteria of having an intellectual disability or a similar developmental disability and be at least eight years of age in order to compete. Activities at these events are for those of all ability levels, from the highly functioning to the severely challenged. All of the athletes receive year round opportunities to develop physical fitness and participate in Special Olympic events.

The weekend for Winterfest in Incline is filled with events open for free to the entire community and will provide an opportunity to see celebrities competing along with the Special Olympic athletes.

In addition to the free events, the community is invited to participate in all of the other activities from the Friday night events at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe to Sunday’s Plungefest at Hyatt Beach. The event is March 5-7, and is sponsored by the Hyatt and Diamond Peak.