Flame of Hope sparks smiles as it travels on Kenai Peninsula

6 peninsula athletes participate in games

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2001

Starting today, the world's attention will be focused on more than 2,500 Special Olympics athletes in Anchorage.

Two central Kenai Peninsula athletes will be among those striving for their best performance during the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

There are seven different sporting events occurring this year, and area athletes will take part in two of them.

Robert Wilusz, 15, will participate in the level two snowshoeing, including the 200-, 400- and 800-meter races. Samantha Baker will participate in the novice alpine skiing event.


Students at Redoubt Elementary cheer and clap as the runners enter their school for a presentation.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Both athletes have medaled in their sports before.

Wilusz won a gold medal during the pregames in November for the 400-meter snowshoe race. He also has participated in swimming, bowling, horseback riding and track and field at past games.

Wilusz said he has been dreaming about attending the games for some time. He has won at least 10 gold medals in various different Special Olympic games and has more than 30 others.

When not practicing for the games, Wilusz attends Kenai Middle School. He also works at the school washing tables after lunch, picking up newspapers to recycle and delivering school bulletins.


The Flame of Hope burns from a Special Olympics torch that runners carried across the central peninsula Friday.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

But much of his and Baker's time is used practicing, said Katherine Wilusz, Special Olympics area director.

Both Wilusz and Baker have been in training twice a week since June, and daily since January.

Wilusz is not shy about what his plans are during the games.

"I am gonna come back with gold medals," he said.


Linda Anderson of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce covers her eyes as Lt. Tom Bowman of the Alaska State Troopers, Senior Officer Stephen Blemings of the Winston-Salem (N. C.) Police Department and Soldotna Visitors Center manager Kim Mariman take pictures of the running team at the visitors center.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Baker, 23, has participated in the Special Olympics for 14 years. She won a gold medal in the women's novice giant slalom in the pregames in March. She has skied for more than eight years and she also plays basketball, participates in track and field and power lifting for the Special Olympics.

"I do it all," she said.

When Baker is not preparing for the games, she works at Big Kmart and has been planning her June wedding to a fellow Special Olympics athlete.

But when discussing the upcoming games, Baker beams with excitement.


Samantha Baker

"What I like about skiing is meeting the new people," she said.

Baker said she is looking forward to seeing athletes she knows from other games, new athletes from other areas of the world and the celebrities that have been booked for the opening ceremonies, including Arnold Schwartzenegger.

"It is awesome," she said. "I can't even stop smiling."

She said she met Schwartze-negger at a past summer games, held in Anchorage, and is happy to be able to see him again.

Skiing also is heavily on her mind. She said she can't wait to go tearing through the poles on Alyeska.

But it is not the win she is set on, it is the excitement of being apart of the games.

"I'm going to get three more gold medals," she said, "and if I can't, oh well, I try again (next time)."

Other peninsula athletes traveling to the games include snowshoers, Chris Tarpey of Seward, Jolene Clark and Shaunti Johnson, both of Homer, and cross-country skier, Ivan Meganack, of Homer.

To kick off area excitement, the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg Team presented the symbolic "Special Olympics Flame of Hope," Friday to both Redoubt and Mountain Elementary schools.

More than 2,750 athletes and coaches from more than 80 nations are expected to compete in the World Winter Games in Anchorage. Special Olympics athletes will compete in seven winter sports including Alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating. Alaska will have 54 athletes compete in the games -- the largest number from any of the United States contingencies.

The opening ceremony will be held at 7:30 tonight at the Sullivan Arena.

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