Special Olympics New York Brings Winter Games to the Hudson Valley

The events take place at sports arenas across three counties on February 19-21

Frustrated by the lack of athletic resources available to those with intellectual disabilities — including the sister with whom she played sports as a child — Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968; the organization now has programs in 170 countries. One of the world’s largest chapters is in New York. On February 19-21, Dutchess, Orange, and Sullivan counties host the Special Olympics New York State Winter Games.

Poughkeepsie’s Mid-Hudson Civic Center is the site of the event’s opening ceremonies, which feature a parade of athletes and the lighting of the Special Olympics Cauldron. Throughout the games, the center will function as the Olympic Village, where 1,800 athletes and coaches can unwind and mingle. The festivities end with a closing ceremony and Victory Dance.

“Over 1,000 volunteers have already signed on board to make the weekend possible,” says Teresa Gilli, the organization’s director of development. The Valley region, says Gilli, “has welcomed us with open arms,” and she anticipates a robust turnout of spectators “to fill the stands and cheer.” Admission is free.

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The location of the games is selected using a bid process, which considers the availability of venues, lodging costs, and partnership opportunities with area businesses. Mary Kay Vrba, president and CEO of Dutchess Tourism and co-chair of the games, is working with Dutchess County’s government and the Regional Chamber of Commerce to organize the event. Vrba can see why the Valley was chosen to host the games for the next two years: “Dutchess County has some very distinct characteristics — like the Walkway Over the Hudson and the Culinary Institute of America — and the people with their can-do attitude.”

Holiday Mountain Ski Area in Monticello hosts alpine skiing events; figure and speed skating take place at Poughkeepsie’s McCann Ice Arena, while cross-country skiing and snowshoeing will draw crowds to Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls. The capstone sport, though, is floor hockey. Teams go for gold in four brand-new rinks installed at Newburgh’s Stewart Air National Guard base.

For more information, visit www.specialolympics-ny.org.

UPDATE: Due to lack of snow in the area, the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing events will now take place at Holiday Mountain Ski Area.

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