‘It’s an inspiration’: Athletes with intellectual disabilities compete in Jackson

Pre-race rituals at the Special Olympics Winter Games included putting on glitter and dancing to Taylor Swift with a well-known local DJ.
Ryan Lane, who also is an instructor for adaptive skiers, gears up to race at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at the annual Special Olympics Winter Game. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Recreation

It was lightly snowing as one of the Jackson athletes, Hope Oberreit, rode up on the Teewinot chairlift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. She passed over the gently sloped slalom-style race course below. 

“This is called the time trials,” said Oberreit, one of the Special Olympics athletes.

The 19-year-old with pigtails and a floral print buff already covered her face in glitter, and said she’s been gearing up for this day all season long.

The Special Olympics Wyoming Winter Games happen annually in Jackson, bringing athletes with intellectual disabilities together from across the region.

“They time you and you have to try and be there at a certain time,” Oberreit said, before lifting the chairlift bar to get off and taking off to get a few practice runs in.

Sarah Scharosch (left), who works as a job coach at Teton County’s transition academy, takes some practice laps with Hope Oberreit (right) before the day’s race. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

At the bottom of the course, music blared from the announcer tent, and Oberreit was trying to find her rhythm before the race.

She had a special request for the DJ, who describes himself as a class three local celebrity, known for his loudness and honesty.

“You’re Crazy Tom, right?” Oberreit asked. 

“I am. That’s what my underwear says so hope I’m that guy,” said Crazy Tom — who swears he’s forgotten his last name.

Oberreit’s song request? 22 by Taylor Swift. She said she’s a big Swiftie. 

“Boom, just like that, you get what you want,” Crazy Tom said. “That’s what we’re here to do today,” 

Oberreit grooved for a minute then took off to get a couple more laps. But another Jackson Special O racer, Jonah Baltes, was still jamming out.

“I’m excited that I’m going to have fun and win. Let me be brave, if I don’t win, let me be brave and attempt,” Baltes said. 

Over inside the DJ tent, Crazy Tom put on a new tune. He said he’s been volunteering with the Special Olympics in Jackson since the early 2000s. 

Wearing a long fur coat, DJ Crazy Tom cheers on athletes as they ski by. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

“I had literally a boombox and a bullhorn, and I came out here and just started cheering people on,” he recalled.

He said DJing this event is his favorite day of the year, with athletes coming from all over Wyoming, Montana and Utah to compete — gritting their teeth through often snowy and icy roads. 

“I think the whole world has challenges on a daily basis just getting out and doing anything on this planet and you see this group doing it with a smile and overcoming any challenges they may perceive in a day just to be here skiing,” he said. “It’s an inspiration, can’t not be an inspiration.”

Crazy Tom then turned to announcing, with the race kicking off and athletes zooming down the course. 

They competed for the rest of the day downhill skiing and snowboarding at the resort, and snowshoeing and cross country skiing over at Summit Innovations School.

Athletes said they can’t wait to be back on the course next year, seeing all their friends, going for gold — and jamming out to Taylor Swift.

One Special Olympics competitor from Casper finishes his run, high-fiving a race staff member. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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