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Spokane-area athletes heading to world stage in Boise

Special Olympics games include snowboarding, skating

Aaron Evans’ drive for athletic achievement was born of necessity.

His mother died when he was 10 days old, leaving him in the hands of his grandmother, Sherry Rizzuto.

Evans, 30, is autistic. As a teenager, he was hyperactive. Rizzuto enrolled him in the Spokane parks department’s therapeutic recreation program to channel his natural athleticism.

Evans will be among five Spokane-area athletes to compete in the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games Feb. 7-13 in Boise. His event is snowboarding.

“I am in good shape,” Evans said. “I won three gold medals last year” at the annual state Special Olympics competition in Wenatchee. That qualified him for the World Winter Games.

Nearly 2,500 athletes from more than 100 countries are expected in Boise for seven events — alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating.

Evans will be joined by two other participants in the city therapeutic recreation program. Sarah Fullen, 25, of Colbert, will compete in figure skating. Kevin Vandeventer, 35, of Chattaroy, is entered in cross-country skiing.

Other area athletes going to Boise are snowboarder Chantel Swanson of Hunters, in Stevens County, and Brandy Phillips of Loon Lake, in cross-country skiing.

The Olympic flame, which was lit in Athens, Greece, in November, arrives in Coeur d’Alene on Thursday for its final journey to Boise.

For Evans, the chance to compete on an international stage is the latest accomplishment in a long list of athletic pursuits, including weight lifting and endurance competition.

“It has opened up his world, really,” Rizzuto said of Evans’ athletic and recreational pursuits. “It’s absolutely the best thing that’s happened to my grandson.”

More importantly, the chance to be involved and to socialize with other athletes has helped Evans work through communication problems caused by autism.

“I have friends,” Evans said.

He told his grandmother once that snowboarding makes him feel free, she said. “He gets to snowboard with people from all over the world. That’s got to be very exciting.”

Rizzuto credits the Spokane parks department’s recreation program for persons with disabilities with helping Evans hone his skills and prepare for competition. He’s a member of the parks department’s Powder Hounds program at Mount Spokane on Saturdays, and participates in weekly ice skating at Riverfront Park. He is employed through the Artisan Ark in Spokane.

Grandmother and grandson, who live together, are so close that she joins him for workouts at a local fitness club and provides his transportation to other activities. Evans loves snowboarding so much that she bought him and a friend season passes at Schweitzer Mountain Resort this season.

He swims, runs, lifts weights, plays guitar, golfs, roller blades, bicycles and is involved in drama. Two years ago, he competed in a long-distance troika competition of swimming, bicycling and running. He said he can lift up to 400 pounds. “He does it all,” Rizzuto said.

He is 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds.

“He is such an incredible athlete,” said Alice Busch, therapeutic recreation supervisor for the city.

Rizzuto said Special Olympics showcases what persons with disabilities can accomplish, and programs like therapeutic recreation offer parents of disabled children the opportunity to let their children grow.

For the games, Special Olympics pays for travel, lodging, competition and uniforms, primarily through donations. For more information on the Web, go to www.2009worldgames.org.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at mikep@spokesman.com.

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