BY ANGIE JACKSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Curtis Budrow looks forward to snowboarding at the Special Olympics Winter Games after a month of training at Mt. Holiday.
Budrow, 20, claimed ribbons last year in the 75M snowshoe event. He likes the competition, but his favorite part of the winter games is the opening ceremony.
Budrow celebrated last year by break-dancing in the aisles. NFL quarterback Drew Stanton signed his hat, he bragged.
Budrow is among 18 athletes from the greater Traverse City area who will compete in the games that begin Wednesday. Nine hundred athletes from 60 Michigan counties are registered, said Mallorie Stiger, spokeswoman for Special Olympics Michigan.
The competition includes snowboarding, snowshoeing, skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating and speed skating.
Events will be held at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, Shanty Creek Resort's Schuss Village and Howe Ice Arena. Admission to the events is free.
The opening ceremony is a highlight for many athletes, Stiger said.
The ceremony features a helicopter flyover by the U.S. Coast Guard, weather permitting. Participants' faces light up when the Wertz Warriors ride in on snowmobiles. The organization sponsors the games with a 900-mile ride from Mount Clemens to Petoskey to raise money and awareness.
The competition empowers athletes, some who train for months.
"Sometimes they might not have the best, inclusive experience on a day-to-day basis," Stiger said. "This is a time to focus not on what they can't do, but this is a time to focus on what they can do and highlight their successes."
Twice-weekly training for Traverse City area athletes began in January but was cut short because of a lack of snow and then heavy dumpings of snow that closed schools.
The local athletes will have make-up practices after the games, said John Casteel, Special Olympics area director for Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim, Benzie and Kalkaska counties.
"The practices, that's like competition to them," he said.
Time trials and the opening ceremony will be Wednesday. The competition begins Thursday and wraps Friday. For a competition calender, visit somi.org.