When the torch is lit at the Opening Ceremony Feb. 7 at the Empire State Winter Games (ESWG) in Lake Placid, N.Y., it will be witnessed by some 1,000 athletes who will converge on the Adirondack region for the four-day winter sports festival.
One of those running the torch those final steps into the Herb Brooks Arena will come from the adaptive community. From Thursday to Sunday, these adaptive athletes will race with all the fervor of able bodied competitors.
“We have two goals at the Games,” said adaptive coordinator Jeff Erenstone to SnoCountry.com. “We want to introduce people with disabilities to recreation sports, and the Lake Placid area is a wonderful venue for that. We’re kind of piggy-backing on that and introducing individuals with disabilities to those sports and enjoy them, and maybe even progress to the Paralympic level.”
Erenstone also wants to introduce the able bodied sports community to the group he is nurturing.The ESWG will feature 19 sports on 12 venues in four townships and two counties. The adaptive events include alpine, biathlon, boadercross and cross country skiing.
“We’re increasing in numbers,” continued Erenstone. Approximately 40 were registered at press time. “This year we are coordinating with the Paralympic Nordic and biathlon teams. We had a training camp right before last year’s ESWG. And some who were here a year ago for first time and competed in the Games progressed onto the Paralympic team. From that success we hope to recruit more for future Games.”
Adaptive boardercross is new to this year’s ESWG. Games organizers are hoping some athletes can compete next weekend, but since it has been added to the Paralympic Games, taking place in March 2014 in Sochi, a circuit has been created for the discipline to enable athletes to qualify. The ESWG are not yet on that tour, but hope to be in the future.
But what is on the ESWG radar is sledge hockey. Erenstone envisions that for next year’s Games. Imagine the experience of these athletes being able to play on the fabled rink where the 1980 Miracle on Ice took place?“
"We want to introduce able bodied athletes to the fact that these disabled sports happen,” says Erenstone. “With more recognition and more growth, there will be more opportunities.”
Photo: Denton Publications/Keith Lobdell