A few years ago, Maureen surprised many with her gritty, silver-medal-winning performance in the 3,000-meter run at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland. Maureen, however, is not one to be content with success at one thing -- or one sport. This year, she’s been training to take on a whole new range of competitors at her first World Winter Games in Korea. This time, she’ll be representing Special Olympics Team USA in alpine skiing. “We were shocked that she was picked,” says Maureen’s mom, Jeanie. “Not because she hasn’t earned it -- because she has -- but because it’s such an honor.” Maureen got involved in sports at a young age, when her mom, a nurse and health instructor at a nearby New Jersey school, organized a cross-country team. Maureen, who has Down syndrome, went with mom to practice. That’s when it became obvious that Maureen is a fairly skilled runner. It was a 1.5-mile course, but Maureen finished every race. “She was sometimes last, but she never gave up.” Through Special Olympics, Maureen has learned a lot – determination and a positive attitude -- but has also enjoyed being recognized for her skills.
"Special Olympics showed her that she could be successful. And that made a big difference," says Jeanie. "But she's also very persistent - that's why she's going to World Games."
Maureen works hard at skiing - and doesn't give up, even though she admits, "Skiing is harder than running." There's a lot more at stake skiing than running; Maureen's goals include not hitting the gates and not falling down! Maureen started out years ago, skiing with her dad or her mom, going downhill between their skis. She'd have skis but no poles. Eventually, she went down by herself.
When she trains on the slopes, Maureen is very focused, trying to make sure she completes the event without being disqualified for missing gates. Her mom says, "She's not as concerned with speed as making sure she is accurate. She wants to do well on the slopes and works hard at being accurate."
But how has an alpine skier been practicing for Winter Games all summer and fall, long before the first snowfall? Maureen says it's all about cross-training and keeping fit: "I'm training in dance class, and biking, walking, and on my trampoline." Though she's determined to practice as much as she can, Maureen says, "I can't train every day, because I have work." She's also started training at her local gym.
In her small town, everyone knows Maureen - who does her own banking and bikes into town to make her own deposits. Her mom says, "Everyone is excited for her."
At this World Games, Maureen says she's ready to show the world what hard work can do -- and maybe even try for a gold medal. "I know I can do it."
About Kate McKenna: SOI Editorial and Multimedia Director