Peninsula organization regroups after July fire

Special athletes set for world games

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2000

Two area Special Olympics athletes will travel to Anchorage in March to compete against athletes from regions around the globe.

Samantha Baker, 22 and Rob Wilusz, 14, both of Kenai, will both represent Central Peninsula Special Olympics at the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

"They might have a lot riding on them, but they don't feel it," said Katherine Wilusz, Special Olympics area director, who also is mother to Rob.

A total of 80 nations and more than 2,500 athletes and coaches will travel to Alaska to participate in the event.

Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with disabilities. According to a press release, the World Winter Games will be the largest international sporting event ever to be staged in Alaska.

Though there are seven different sporting events occurring this year, Kenai Peninsula athletes will take part in two of them.

Both athletes have won medals in their sports before.

Baker has participated in the Special Olympics for 14 years. She will be a part of the alpine skiing team at the world games. She won a gold medal in the women's novice giant slalom in the pregames in March. She has skied for eight years and she also plays basketball for the Olympics.

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

His mother said both athletes have been training since June and are looking forward to having fun at the games.

Both Baker and Wilusz traveled to Anchorage in early October for a training camp. While there, they also met other athletes competing with them in Team USA.

"They had a blast," Wilusz said.

While excitement builds for the world games, the memory of the loss of an estimated $20,000 in office and sports equipment from a devastating fire still lingers.

Special Olympics, along with five Kenai Peninsula businesses, including two gynecology and obstetric practices, a family medical practice, a podiatry practice, an Internal Revenue Service field office and an Internet provider, were temporarily without a home after a fire destroyed the Anchor Plaza strip mall July 21 in Soldotna. The fire caused at least $1 million in total damage.

The fire destroyed all the office and sports equipment and team uniforms stored in the office used by the Special Olympics.

In the months since the fire, Wilusz said, the community has raised and donated about $20,000.

"The community has been wonderful," she said.

The money will be used to replace equipment and uniforms and will fund training and traveling for the athletes. But Wilusz said her organization is still in need.

"We are desperately seeking an office space or even just storage space," she said.

Currently, the organization is working out of her home. She said heated storage space is needed so the equipment will not freeze and the uniforms will not retain moisture and later rot.

"We really appreciate the community support," she said, "but we still need some help."

Wilusz said help also is needed in the way of volunteers for the world winter games.

Volunteers are needed for training, coaching and assistant coaching, as well as for at the games.

Anyone interested in helping the Special Olympics in any way can call 260-3364.

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