January 28, 2009 in City

Local athletes going for gold

Five from region to compete in Special Olympics in Boise
By The Spokesman-Review
Photos by JESSE TINSLEY photo

Kevin Vandeventer, 35, works out Tuesday at Gold’s Gym in north Spokane in preparation for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise in February. He will compete in cross-country skiing.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

Torch runs

The Flame of Hope for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise arrives in Coeur d’Alene by boat Thursday at 8:10 a.m. at the Third Street boat ramp. From there, it heads to the downtown library for a ceremony at 8:35 a.m.

•The flame will travel on two routes across North Idaho later that day, with torch carriers handling the flame during short jogs in seven communities. It will be in Eastport on Thursday for a ceremony at the U.S. Customs Building at 12:20 p.m.; Bonners Ferry at the high school at 2:10 p.m.; and Sandpoint at the police department at 4:10 p.m.

•On the other route Thursday, it will be in Pinehurst at the elementary school at 10:50 a.m.; in Kellogg at the middle school at 12:20 p.m.; in Osburn at Silver Hills Elementary School at 1:30 p.m.; and in Wallace at the high school at 2:35 p.m.

•On Friday, the torch will visit four more communities – Rathdrum at Stein’s IGA at 8:40 a.m.; Post Falls at the police department at 9:45 a.m.; Lewiston at Locomotive Park at 1:25 p.m.; and Moscow at Moscow High School at 3 p.m.

•The ceremonial torch runs involve 120 law officers, athletes and support crew.

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 important, 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 people 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 enjoys snowboarding so much that Rizzuto 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 such an incredible athlete,” said Alice Busch, therapeutic recreation supervisor for the city.

Rizzuto said Special Olympics showcases what people 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.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email