Warm weather for Special Olympics Winter Games - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Warm weather for Special Olympics Winter Games

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Athletes this year use snow shoes on the grass Athletes this year use snow shoes on the grass
DUBUQUE COUNTY (KWWL) -

For 27 years, Special Olympics Iowa has held its Winter Games in Dubuque.

These athletes with special needs range in age from eight-years-old to senior citizens.

No matter the sport, encouragement is the name of the game. At this event, victory isn't only defined by who finishes first.

The Schneckloth family's 11-year-old daughter Alli Schneckloth is a downhill skier at the games.

Alli's mom, Brandi Schneckloth, considers Alli a winner every single day.

"She had some complications at birth, and the doctors did not know if she was going to live or survive or not, and so the doctor said, as long as she keeps breathing, she will keep living, and so we have just been blessed every day," Schneckloth said, tearing up.

Her daughter joins hundreds of athletes for the three-day event.

With artificial snow at Sundown Mountain Resort, where the ski events take place, and skating events inside the Mystique Community Ice Center, snow shoeing at Albrecht Acres outside Sherrill was the only sport drastically impacted by the weather.

With no snow, athletes ran on the grass.

Winter games director Paul Gorrell, however, said things could be worse.

"You know, that's one good thing about snow shoeing: you don't have to have snow. You can just do it on grass," Gorrell said Tuesday at Sundown Mountain. "If it was 70 degrees and no snow out here, then we'd probably have something to worry about, but, as it goes, hey, it just makes it really nice for everyone."

Gorrell has worked with the winter games since it started 27 years ago.

"We had 25 athletes, and it's grown to over 400," he said.

He has been director of the games for the past 25 years and has winter temperatures all across the board.

"We've gone from zero degrees to 50 degrees here, and, actually, below zero, so we just adapt to the weather," he said.

Gorrell is stepping down as director at the end of this event.

"I think what we'll miss the most is all the kids' smiling faces and having them come up to you and giving you hugs and things like that," he said.

Alli's mom echoed those feelings.

"Everybody cheers for everybody, just from the accomplishment of the day and the accomplishment of just the tiny baby-step goals that each athlete has. It's just a life-changing experience," Schneckloth said.

Gorrell said the event costs $65,000 to put on. The Polar Plunge fundraiser in Dubuque pulled in about $27,000 of that, Gorrell said, and grants from local organizations made up the rest.

Athletes only have to pay a $30 participation fee. That covers all their food and rooming for the three days. Volunteers and chaperones enjoy the experience for free.

The final day is Wednesday.

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