Gary Endecott loves to ski. The 26-year-old from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was ecstatic to find out that he would get to travel outside the United States for the first time in his life to ski in the Austrian Alps.
But it’s not for a ski vacation. On his first overseas trip, Endecott is competing in Alpine skiing at the Special Olympics 2017 World Winter Games, which runs March 14–25.
Endecott said he was “almost jumping up and down” when he found out he had been selected to race in Austria. He had gone through tough training to get there.
“I love to ski. Love the powder, love the moguls,” he said in a video on the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort website. “It’s a challenge every day just to come out and learn it.”
Endecott joins 138 other U.S. athletes competing in Austria. About 2,600 athletes from more than 100 countries will compete in seven sports: Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating.
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” — Special Olympics athlete’s oath
The World Games, which take place every two years, alternating between summer and winter games, offer a chance to bring attention to the Special Olympics movement and people with intellectual disabilities around the world.
This year, for the first time, the Winter Games will be broadcast live, on ESPN, and streamed around the world. This excites the athletes, whose families will be able to watch them, and also organizers, who say it helps to increase exposure and awareness of the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities.
“Our athletes are finally getting the recognition of sport that they should be. That’s the most amazing part of it for me,” said Caleb Shoaf, an Alpine skiing coach for the U.S. team. “It’s great exposure — you hope it gets them excited to come out.”
Endecott, like all the athletes competing in Austria, would love to win. But he also sees the games as a chance to meet new people and experience new things. He said Special Olympics has taught him about loyalty and respect. And he is very excited to make his family and friends proud.
“They’re going to be cheering me on,” he said before racing, noting that people would be watching online and on TV from home. “They’re going to be really happy and really proud of me — of what I’ve accomplished in my life.”