Park City athletes snare golfing gold in Utah Special Olympics

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Athletes from Park City stood on the podium at the September Special Olympics Utah State Golf Competition in Rose Park where over 80 athletes competed. 
Results for Park City SO Mountaineers:
 Andy Howell: gold (division 7)
 Ava Jennings: silver (div. 6)
 CJ Haerter: gold (div. 6)
 Taylor Meckoll: silver (div. 9)
“None of these PC athletes reached the podium in the area qualifier in earlier in the month in SLC, so this time it was an amazing performance on the bigger stage, a true testament to their progress and parent- nd coach-support,” Coach Nathaniel Mills told TownLift.
Mills is a three-time able-bodied Olympian in the sport of long track speed skating. A teacher in DC, he started DC ICE (Inner City Excellence) for inner city youth to get involved in skating.
Mills also has a sibling who earned a medal in the able bodied Summer Olympic Games.
Mountaineers SO golf team. Photo: courtesy of Nathaniel Mills
Most of these golfers have spent time over the years training with and competing for the National Ability Center, except for Taylor, whose family just moved here from Oregon.
Affectionately called Coach Nat, Mills explained the goals for forming a new Park City Special Olympics delegation for the team now known as, the Mountaineers. The delegation emerged due to the confluence of parent need for local Special Olympics opportunities and Mills’s arrival to Park City.
“I was involved in Special Olympics in DC as a golf (and speedskating) coach for years, so it made sense to start with golf here. But it was really Vaughn Robinson and his staff at the Park City Golf Course that really made it possible, since we needed a convenient place to practice and we were starting without a budget,” said Mills. “Vaughn’s encouragement and generosity are a perfect example of what SO partnerships should look like.”  
Special Olympians.
Special Olympians. Courtesy of Nathaniel Mills

The primary reason for forming a new Park City SO delegation is to be able to offer year-round sports programs for local athletes with an intellectual disability, regardless of age or experience. Mills, Special Olympics Utah (SOUT), and the Park City delegation are also helping families in the Heber area to establish an additional, separate SO delegation.
They aim to offer two to four sports each season for SO athletes and sports partners, which includes non-SO athletes participating in unified practices and competitions. After the strong start this fall in Golf, they’re planning for SO winter sports: Skiing (Alpine and Nordic), Snowboarding, Speedskating and Basketball.
“Our delegation will help pioneer these winter sports opportunities — and competitions! — for SO Utah athletes everywhere,” Mills said. “Lining up community partners — coaches, venues — is the key to it all.”
Mills continued, “We hope the entire PC community will contribute to our success. As resources grow — number of participants, partners, donors — we can offer even more opportunities. Part of that equation involves fundraising to cover program costs; even though all SO coaches — worldwide — are volunteers, we’ll still have costs: equipment, venue fees, travel, etc.  Our delegation falls under SO Utah’s 501(c)(3) tax exemption, so any kind of contribution — equipment, venue access, financial — is tax-deductible for the donor.”
“There’s no reason some of our Park City athletes can’t eventually quality for future SO USA Games or SO World Games if they have the desire and they are supported by their community” — Coach Nat. 
 He goes on to say, “Right now we’re just eager to let everyone know that year-round Special Olympics opportunities are coming to the Wasatch Back and not just for individuals and families in the neuro-diverse community. I very much consider Special Olympics as a part of the Olympic Movement, and in my experience as an Olympian and coach, the Olympic Spirit shines as bright, maybe brighter, in Special Olympics athletes. Looking back on my competitive career, I was nowhere near as much of a true Olympian as many of the SO athletes I’ve gotten to work with over the years.”

Socially, the sports behooves all stakeholders as well. C.J. and Ava who were the Park City High School prom king and queen two years ago, find golf a nice way to spend time together exploring if their friendship might be evolving into something more.

Many of the Mountaineers manage housing via Bridge 21 and employment via Lucky Ones Coffee Shop.

Park City's C.J. Haerter won gold in golf.
Park City’s C.J. Haerter won gold in golf. Photo: courtesy of Muggins Haerter

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