World Games Updates
Melanie Nadal, daughter of Special Olympics Venezuela snowshoeing coach Juan Nadal, trains on sandy beaches for the World Games.
Training in "Caribbean Snow"
People may have rolled their eyes when Special Olympics Venezuela coach Juan Nadal suggested what many thought was impossible, but this sports innovator wasn’t deterred. He introduced the sport of snowshoeing in a country that has tropical weather year-round – a first for the Special Olympics Latin America region. Now they’re wide-eyed enthusiasts and Nadal is helping other countries in the region – Puerto Rico and El Salvador – develop their own snowshoeing programs.
With homemade snowshoes in hand, Nadal coaxed four athletes into giving the sport a try. And although the yearly snowfall in Venezuela is nil, the country does have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The athletes had plenty of sand, or as they refer to it – “Caribbean snow.” The initial four athletes practiced for one full year, capping off their training with the ultimate competition – the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
When the team first started practicing, they looked like fish out of water. People would stop and ask them what they were doing. “We used boots nailed to wooden snowshoes, shorts because of the heat and backpacks with a little weight to emulate the heaviness and bulk of winter clothing. It was a great challenge for us,” Nadal explained.
Even though sand and snow are different, sand is the closest thing they have to the snow. “As athletes run and walk on the dry sand, footprints, similar to those in the snow, create a sinking force which gives the impression they are on snow. They can practice running on snowshoes and learn how to get up when they fall,” said Nadal.
Today there are more than 100 Special Olympics Venezuelan snowshoers practicing their sport. The 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games is the second World Winter Games for this country’s snowshoeing athletes. Of the country’s seven athletes competing – three women and four men – Melanie Nadal, 23, the coach’s daughter, is the only athlete who has ever competed in snow (at the 2005 World Winter Games, where she won a fourth place ribbon; other teammates won silver and bronze medals). “At the 2005 World Games, we celebrated our victories as if they were all gold medals, since it had been such a daunting task,” quipped Nadal.
At the 2009 World Winter Games, Nadal says the athletes are excited about seeing snow for the first time. “The coaches,” reveals Nadal, “are worried about the cold” – another new experience for these athletes. Still, Nadal is optimistic about the team’s chances of winning gold and silver medals. But even if they don’t win medals, Nadal says, “We’ll still be very proud of our ‘tropical team.’”