Portland’s Henry Meece placed gold at the Winter X Games in snowboarding alongside teammate Chris Klung, a U.S. Olympic gold medalist. Meece was one of ten Special Olympic athletes invited to the event.
The X Games, run by ESPN, is an annual sporting event which focuses on extreme sports such as skateboarding, motocross, and snowboarding.
Meece is no stranger to competition. Two years ago, he competed in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Korea. The Korean competition was a special experience for him because he was born and lived in a foster home there until he was adopted by a Portland family.
The event marked the first time Special Olympics athletes were awarded the same medals given to other X game participants.
“I’ve been snowboarding for 30-plus years now,” Klug said. “And this is what it’s all about. Having fun on the mountain, standing sideways and sliding downhill in the sunshine. Snowboarding’s the common denominator. It brings us all together here.”
Meece narrowly beat 2006 Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Hannah Teter. Teter is a strong supporter of Special Olympics.
“[It’s] changing lives,” she said. Teter campaigned for the Unified Snowboarding event to be included in the X Games.
“I grew up with a special-needs brother, and the separation from other kids is so extreme,” she said. “We’ve got to break down those barriers. I’m just happy to be a part of a mission.”
The scene at the beginning of the race between the Pros and teammates epitomized that mission.
“It’s very significant that the X Games welcomed them as credentialed athletes so they can sit in the athlete lounge and feel like they’re the same as everyone else,” said Bob Whitehead, a Special Olympics technical delegate and event organizer.
Teter’s teammate for the games, Daina Shilts, is a Special Olympics veteran of 17 years and knows firsthand how sports can change an intellectually disabled person’s life.
“Special Olympics has shown me how big you can make someone smile,” she said. “It’s just an amazing feeling working for someone who needs you. You get that warm feeling when they’re smiling and laughing, and I love it.”
Every other year, Shilts took off work to watch the X Games–but not this year.
“Instead of watching, I’m at it, competing in [them],” she said.