RUMFORD — Friday was a much anticipated fun day for 130 athletes from seven Oxford County Special Olympics teams and 40 volunteers.
It was also the athletes' last official Winter Training Day at Black Mountain of Maine ski area before they compete at the Special Olympics Maine Winter Games on Jan. 27-29 at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley. More than 1,000 athletes from around Maine are expected to attend.
"This is their life," Sandra Hebert of Dixfield, county co-area manager, said of the practice and exercise. "This is their opportunity to be together before Sugarloaf."
Hebert said athletes from the county's eight teams will still have to visit their local ski areas for individual team practices before then.
She said the county Special Olympics program goes on year-round.
"From this we go to Sugarloaf, and then swimming in May, basketball, golfing; we keep them busy," Hebert said.
"This is what we have to keep them healthy, and we're not alone. We're very blessed with their coaches."
Team Momentum coach and county co-area manager Rhonda Lausier of Casco agreed. She said trainings at Maine ski areas for Special Olympics Maine athletes "are just awesome."
Teams that participated Friday in snowshoeing, speed skating, and alpine and Nordic skiing events were, Emma's Happy Rebels, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, RSU 10, Medical Care Development of Norway, Momentum, Opportunities and Progress Center.
John Hall of Momentum, who has been a Special Olympics athlete for 33 years, said he loves to compete in snowshoe events. He ran the 50- and 100-meter races.
"This is fun!" Hall yelled after completing the 100 with teammate Julie Deem. "That was too easy."
And then he was off to mentor another teammate who was about to compete again in the 50-meter race.
Leaning the upper half of his body forward at the waist, Hall told the teammate, "Don't bend over like this. You'll get exhausted. My dad told me this a long time ago."
The friend then tromped over to the starting line, took his place, and Lausier made sure they understood where the finish line was.
Then she stood to one side in her black jumpsuit, held her right arm straight up, and said, "Athletes! You ready? Set? Go!"
At "Go," Lausier brought her arm down quickly and dropped to her knees, as the runners took off.
Hall's teammate sprinted forward without bending at the waist and ran better. Seeing this, Hall's face lit up in a big grin as he shouted encouragement, joining voices from several other athletes and volunteers.
During the races, Rumford police Sgt. Tracey Higley also cheered the athletes on, shaking bright pink and white pompoms in his hands. He also ran alongside some athletes and induced one man who fell at the start to get back up and continue running.
The event closed with an awards ceremony inside the lodge where new Rumford police officers Dan Carrier and Joshua Holland, and Sgt. Alan Hill of Norway and the 251st National Guard Engineer Co., placed green participation ribbons around the athletes' necks.
Then, as Hebert stood outside saying goodbye to the athletes, some ran up and gave her a hug, waved and yelled, "See you at Sugarloaf!"