Park City student ski racer comes up big
February 15, 2008
Skiing has been a part of Jenny Beem’s life ever since she was a baby when her dad would take her out on the mountain in his backpack. "As soon as she could walk, she was skiing," Jenny’s mom, Cynthia said.
Jenny is a seventh-grade student with Down syndrome who attends Ecker Hill International Middle School. She has a green belt in karate. She dances, rides horses and plays basketball. She loves swimming, and she just started ski racing this year with the National Ability Center’s Special Olympics ski team, the Silver Rockets.
"I won four medals," Jenny said.
Jenny’s first races ever were the slalom and giant slalom at the Special Olympics regional competition at Park City Resort in January. She won silver in the slalom and bronze in the giant slalom in the intermediate category. She took those same places in the state competition at Powder Mountain in February.
Jenny’s medals hang with her dad’s. He used to be a professional ski racer. She said she likes to go fast down the mountain, and she also really likes to win medals.
Cynthia said the experience has been a real confidence booster for Jenny. "She surprises me with how much more mature she acts," Cynthia said. "This gives her an outlet to express herself. It’s so great to have something at her ability level that she can be successful at."
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Joining the racing program was a learning experience for both Jenny and her parents, Jenny’s teacher, Kristen Schaub said. "It’s a high point for her to step up and do that without mom and dad," she said. "They’re really sheltered when they’re younger, so it’s a big risk to do."
Schaub added that for parents, "it’s part of a series of steps of giving up control."
Cynthia couldn’t agree more. She joked about when Jenny was staying overnight in a condo with her team at Powder Mountain and how it was driving her crazy not to call and check up on her. "I’m just so used to watching her all the time," she said.
Part of the reason they put Jenny on the team, Cynthia said, was to have her socialize not just "with mom and dad." "We thought this would be a great way for her to do something in a group setting that’s more organized," she said.
Jenny met with her team, a group of about six people, for two hours every Friday after school. One of her coaches, Adrienne Miao, said they practiced turning and taught them how to navigate the course. "Jenny didn’t always want to turn," she said.
Schaub worked with Jenny throughout the year to prepare her for all the new things she would experience in practices and competitions. "We would spend a little time each day acclimating her to all the aspects of the sport," she said. "I would give her information and the skills she’d need so she could practice it before the event."
During class they’d go over things like vocabulary, sequence of events and social rules. Schaub said that one of the things that makes this program work so well is the close relationship between her parents, the school and the community. "We make sure she’s ready to go to the ski lessons. We all work together to make this happen, and it’s really neat to see all the pieces come together," she said. "Everybody is close and advocating for her to do well."
Jenny’s done more than well. Teacher aide Mary Clark said, "Jenny has made some great progress." Schaub agrees One of the improvements she’s noticed is whenever they have been anxious for her to be out in the community, Jenny has really stepped up and done a good job.
"With our program," Schaub said, "our focus is transition and self determination to provide those skills from home and school to the community. The more that we can empower them and develop those skills, then the more opportunities are available to them."
What Schaub thinks is exciting about Jenny’s situation is that not only is she participating in a part of Park City’s culture, it’s also "a big thing for her family, so it’s cool that she jumps right in."
Jenny said she wants to ski race again next year. Then stood up and did a cheer, "Go team!" she said with excitement and a high kick.
Joining the Special Olympics Ski Team
The National Abilities Center invites everyone to join in the fun
This is the second year for the National Abilities Center’s Special Olympics program, according to Tracy Riddleberger Meier, the assistant ski and snowboard program manager. "We have something for everyone," she said. "We have training for all levels, from basic terrain to advanced."
The Special Olympics program begins around late November-early December with participants practicing once a week to prepare for their competitions. Riddleberger Meier suggests signing up early to get as much practice in as possible and start that team camaraderie early on. Registration opens in September.
Besides the inherent benefits of being active, Riddleberger Meier said there are a lot of social benefits as well. "They learn what it means to be a team member and how to stick with something," she said. "They learn to train hard and do their best and then they get a medal after all their hard work."