Five athletes from Idaho have qualified for the Special Olympics World Winter Games Feb. 26 through March 5 in Nagano, Japan, and two of them live within a mile of each other in the Rathdrum area.
This will be 21-year-old Brandon Burtis’ second trip to world games. In 2003 he competed in the summer games in Dublin, Ireland, in road-biking events. He received a bronze medal in the 15K race, and fourth place in the 10K road race.
He will compete in snowboarding in Nagano. Burtis is the only snowboarder representing the Idaho team. Last year was the first year snowboarding was recognized by Special Olympics, so Nagano will be the first world games to showcase the sport.
Shaine Yoder, 31, will make her first appearance in world games when she competes in the cross country skiing event in Nagano. It will be her first trip out of the United States.
These eighth Special Olympics World Games mark the first time the event will be held in Asia. More than 2,500 athletes and 650 coaches from 80 countries are expected to attend. Featured sports include alpine skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, snowshoeing and floor hockey. The athletes will use sports venues that were previously used for the 1998 Winter Olympics. The Special Olympic World Games are held every four years, just like the Olympic games, and the summer games are staggered with the winter games.
Both Burtis and Yoder are on the Coeur d’Alene team, which consists of about 100 athletes.
Not all of them participate in winter games. Burtis, who has been snowboarding for four years, was previously a skier. He learned to ski at the free ski school at Lookout Pass. He has been an instructor there for two years. Burtis prefers to snowboard.
“There’s less to pack, you don’t have two skis on your feet, you don’t have poles, it’s just all better,” he said.
The Burtis family will be in Nagano to support Brandon. His mother, Roxann, stepdad, Rainer, sister, Chantilly, 12, and brother, Dustin, 15, will go, as will his girlfriend, Christina Simms, 18, a senior at Lakeland High School, Brandon’s alma mater. He graduated in 2002, and has worked at Silverwood theme park every summer for four years.
“Brandon has always had a desire to be real active,” said Roxann Burtis. “He’s thin, trim and he likes doing these kinds of things.” She doesn’t feel her son is disabled, rather “differently-able.” She said his biggest obstacle is language skills.
Yoder has medaled 10 or more times in track, softball, cross country and snowshoeing. She qualified for Nagano by winning gold on the state level.
Both Yoder and Burtis were in Copper Mountain, Colo., Dec. 1 through 5 for training. With no snow here yet, it’s difficult to train. Yoder’s mother, Sue Walker, who is also her coach, said they will have to find snow up north to train if it doesn’t snow here soon. For now, Yoder has an exercise bike and stair-stepper to keep her legs in shape. Yoder is the only cross country skier representing Idaho. She has been cross country skiing for more than three years, moving into the sport from snowshoeing. Her father, Earle Walker, is the snowshoe coach for Special Olympics. Yoder will compete in the 50- and 100-meter races in Nagano. She used to do longer distances, but prefers the sprints now. She likes to “go fast and have fun.”
“I started when I was in junior high in track,” Yoder said. In addition to all of her sports, Yoder works for Mountain West Bank in the janitorial department, and she also volunteers at Kootenai Medical Center filling out immunization cards for babies.
Sue Walker said that all of the team members get along great. Yoder and Burtis are friends who will no doubt support each other in Nagano. The Walkers haven’t quite figured out which one of them, or both, will be going with Yoder, as expense is an issue.
Columbia Sportswear sponsored Burtis for the Dublin games, and for Nagano he is receiving a new board, boots, helmet and goggles courtesy of Rossignol. Roxann Burtis has been very proactive in procuring sponsors for her son, resulting in support from Tom Addis Ford/Lincoln/Mercury, Badger Building and Parker Toyota. The U.S. Special Olympics pays for airfare and accommodations for Burtis and Yoder.
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