World Games Updates
Special Olympics Kyrgyz Republic skiers David Vingilevesky (left) and Svetlana Olenburger (center) were able to compete at World Winter Games, thanks to the generosity of several strangers.
Generosity of Strangers Allows Kyrgyz Republic Athletes to Compete at World Games
Special Olympics celebrates joy and there was no greater joy than when strangers opened their hearts and arms at the Sun Valley Cross Country venue to two athletes from the Kyrgyz Republic. Through their generous efforts, they were able to compete.
Ten-year-old cross country skiers Svetlana Olenburger and David Vingilevesky arrived at the Sun Valley Nordic Center without being able to speak English and with no equipment or money to rent equipment.
The Director of Orphan House, where Olenburger and Vingilevesky live, managed to scrape together enough money from the police chiefs and the Kyrgyz Republic’s presidential memorial fund in their country to purchase airline tickets and jackets for the two cross country skiers, and two speedskaters competing in Boise and four adult traveling companions.
“We arrived here with hope and the belief that God would help us,” said Alla Kulbeda, Director of Orphan House.
When they arrived in Sun Valley on Sunday, they found help in the form of a volunteer language interpreter, Elena Khalyavina, a former Russian world figure skater, who now lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, and is volunteering with the Special Olympics World Winter Games. Elena bridged the communications gap for them by connecting them with Ned Wheeler, Director of the Sun Valley Nordic Ski Center. She explained that the athletes needed skis to compete and didn’t have the money to get them. Wheeler provided skis, poles and boots for the athletes to use throughout the Games. Back in their country, they had learned to ski on very old wooden skis and when they got the new equipment they were in awe at how colorful and beautiful their new skis were.
“It was a thrill for us to help the children participate and to see their faces on the awards podium. It was truly the thrill of victory,” said Ned Wheeler. They both placed 5th in their Divisions in 500M Freestyle Cross Country event.
“I believe in God and God helped me find Elena. I was amazed at the open hearts and open minds here at the Special Olympics World Games; that’s very different from my country,” said Kulbeda, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these children and one that they’ll remember forever.”
Two volunteers working the venue were so touched by the athletes’ story that they gave them some other items, including teddy bears, toys, food and clothing to help them while they were here.