It was less than five years ago Golden’s Shelly Poland strapped on a pair of cross country skis for the first time. And this week she is returning home from South Korea with a gold medal from the International Special Olympics.
“I’m looking forward to seeing her, she’s going to be super excited when she gets back. She’s worked so hard for everything that she’s received,” said Ned Johnson, Golden’s Special Olympics co-ordinator.
Johnson, although not a certified coach, has been cross-country skiing with Poland since the beginning of her journey half a decade ago.
“I just love to cross country ski. And with her, it’s just a matter of going through the basics. She’s great, and she’s improved so much. Five years ago, she had never been on cross-country skis before. The progression has been unbelievable,” he said. “It’s the highlight of my day every time I go out with her.”
Special Olympics has a four-year cycle, with athletes first competing in regionals, provincials, nationals, and then internationals. Poland competed in two events, a 500-metre, and a one-kilometre race, for which she won a gold medal.
“She’s been telling me for the last two months that she’s going to win. But at the same time I wanted her to understand that she’s going there to have a good time, meet new people, and see really neat places she’s never been to. She agreed with that, and said that she’s excited to go, and that if she didn’t win it was OK,” said Johnson.
Poland has been vigilant about her training this year, so it is no surprise that she is coming home with this result.
She took it upon herself to make sure she kept up with all her workouts, and has been running and doing weight training every day since August.
“She’s worked really hard, she really deserves it,” said Johnson. “Five years ago, she had never been on cross-country skis before. The progression has been unbelievable.”
Poland’s family has also had a great deal to do with her success. Her mother and stepfather have been with her every step of the way, even taking up skiing themselves so they could do it with her.
They have also put in considerable time to make sure Poland made it to all the training sessions, and have accompanied her to South Korea.
“Her family is unbelievable. They are so supportive,” said Johnson.
Special Olympics in Golden is always looking for more volunteers to help athletes like Poland reach their goals. Right now they are short on board members.
“Hopefully there are some people out there who are interested in getting involved. It’s not a huge time commitment, sometimes we have only three athletes, depending on the time of year,” said Johnson.
Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.