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Special Olympics Colorado Athlete Conquers Mountains, Literally and Figuratively

For Hunter Specht, the mountain is his home away from home. For years, he and his family have bonded over their passion for snow sports, especially skiing. But it was when Hunter’s passion for skiing met Special Olympics Colorado that he was truly able to shine.

A small child is skiing.
Hunter has been skiing with his family since he was a small child, but Special Olympics opened him up to new sports opportunities.

While still in high school, some influences in his life recommended that Hunter get involved with Special Olympics before graduating. His mom, Teresa Specht, says it was the “best advice they had ever gotten,” with a sparkling tone in her voice.

The Special Olympics Unified Sports® program at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado proved to be incredibly important to the success Hunter has had in sports. His dad, John Specht, says participating in sports through Special Olympics became his “on ramp” to athletics.

Along with alpine skiing, Hunter competes in cycling and bowling, but his favorite Special Olympics activity is whatever he is doing at the moment. Hunter is not the only one who has been impacted by the organization. “It takes a village,” Teresa says about the impact Special Olympics has had on her son and family. “There’s a shining light on Special Olympics that changes lives and makes a difference not only in our community but in the world and we are so grateful.” 

John is a collegiate ski racer turned Special Olympics assistant coach who is at every practice and is qualified to coach at the advanced level. And while Teresa doesn’t have an official title with any of Hunter’s teams, she is at every practice and takes on a support role wherever it is needed. “I ski with them and take pictures and share them with the athletes and their families,” Teresa says. “The same goes for all events and it is joyful to take pictures of all of them and it gives them great joy to see themselves shine.”

The joy of Special Olympics is a powerful thing. Something the Specht family would need to draw on quite a bit.

On November 10th, 2021, the Specht family was told Hunter had cancer.

A man sits in a chair and looks at the camera. He has an IV in his arm and is a tablet in his lap.
Hunter's battle with cancer affected his entire family, but the Spechts approached it with the same resilience shown by Special Olympics athletes and their families around the world.

“We came back from the Mayo Clinic and five days later he was in serious surgery, so serious he had incisions from ear to ear,” Teresa says. “He came through that like a rockstar with no complaint.” Recovery from reconstructive hair surgery followed just for Hunter to go back into another surgery and a year of amino therapy. All the way through, he demonstrated the resilience that is so characteristic of Special Olympics athletes.

Despite the intense treatments, Hunter continued to be active in Special Olympics sports, pushing himself to be ready for competition. When it came time for the 2022 Special Olympics Colorado State Games, just a year after his diagnosis, his doctor told him what he had been hoping to hear. “The doctor said ‘if you can keep the bandages on your head, I’ll release you for the State Games’ and off Hunter went. He seized the moment and there would be no other place he would rather be,” his mom shares with happiness. “He medaled in every event.”

Today, Hunter is in a maintenance program and doing well, but his diagnosis and treatment affected his whole family. “You learn so much about the individual when they go through a life-threatening event,” says Teresa. “Both of my kids experienced different health ordeals, and it makes me proud to see how Hunter carried himself through the entire journey.”

A Special Olympics athlete races down a snowy mountain on skis.
After overcoming his largest mountain yet, Hunter is happy to be back out on the snowy mountains.

Most recently, Hunter competed at the 2024 Special Olympics Colorado State Winter Games at Copper Mountain, where he once again medaled in every event, bringing home gold medals in giant slalom and slalom.

Despite the ups and downs that life and skiing can bring, Specht has always stayed involved with Special Olympics and stayed actively competing. It didn’t matter what sport it was or what he was going through in his personal life, he always found a way to push through and get to the top of the next mountain.

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