History repeats itself for local gold medalist

From Jan. 29 to Feb. 5, 2013, Erin Erdman, Lycoming County Special Olympic athlete, and Lester Loner, coach and volunteer for 30 years, traveled to PyeongChang, South Korea, and competed in the 2013 Special Olympic World Winter Games for cross-country skiing, a distance sport.

With the 2018 Winter Olympics also being located in PyeongChang, South Korea, Erdman and Loner have been reminiscing on their time competing in the 2013 Winter Special Olympics. In 2013, Erdman competed in a 7.5K, a 3K and a 4/1 Relay. She took home the gold for the 7.5K, a bronze for the 3K and a 5th-place ribbon for the Relay.

Erdman’s mother enrolled her in the Special Olympics when she was eight because she wanted Erdman to be involved in sports, as her two brothers were. At the time, Erdman was in Delaware and her teacher mentioned the Special Olympics to Erdman’s mother, she said. Erdman went to get her medical form with her mother shortly after, starting in track, and has been involved in the program ever since.

The Special Olympics competitions originally were based on age, sex and ability. Erdman practiced skiing and continued to better herself.

“After five or more years, when I kept beating all the girls, they decided to put me with the boys, and I started beating all the boys, and they didn’t like it,” Erdman said.

Erdman was beating her competitors not by seconds but minutes, and was often entered into divisions on her own, said Loner. Due to athletes with similar abilities to Erdman’s, the Special Olympics changed their rules, and now sometimes go by age and ability if applicable for the division, although they still do use sex as a criteria.

Erdman was selected as one of the athletes to go to PyeongChang a year prior to the 2013 Special Olympics for their tester trials, similar to the Olympics, where they invite a small group of athletes to come and participate in the events, eat and test the transportation, said Loner. The U.S. only had four athletes in attendance; Erdman and Loner were two of the four.

The U.S. had a spot opening for a long-distance female skier for the World Special Olympics and they gave it to Pennsylvania and Erdman was selected.

Erdman remembers her phone buzzing with voicemails. “I listened to all my messages … and I found out from Lucy, the county manager at the time, that I had to get ready to go back to Korea,” she said.

PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of Pennsylvania time, so the Special Olympics sends their volunteers and athletes four to five days early to get use to the time change and weather.

“They put on parties for you and banquets for you, you meet people, maybe go visit a school and meet the students and learn about the surroundings,” Loner said.

To prepare for the 2013 World Special Olympics, Erdman had spent a week training at Lake Placid, New York, with 26 other athletes and coaches to continue her training. While there, Erdman bonded with her teammates, who she got to see in PyeongChang, 2013. In addition to training at Lake Placid, the YMCA donated their facilities to the athletes to continue practicing.

Erdman was part of Team U.S.A., which consisted of 210 athletes, coaches, medical staff and management. There were 26 cross-country skiers and ten coaches competing on the USA Cross Country Ski team. Erdman was one of the 26 skiers and Loner was one of the ten coaches for the U.S.A. Cross Country Ski team.

“Going to the competitions is fun because you get to travel, which is fun, and you get to make new friends and meet your old friends,” Erdman said.

More than 3,300 athletes and 1,000 coaches from 112 countries came together to compete in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor ball, floor hockey, short-track speed skating, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

“I thought it was amazing watching countries come out that I didn’t know were out there,” said Erdman. “It was nice skiing with all the athletes, especially the 4/1 Relay; it looks like a 5 o’clock traffic jam with all the athletes going at once.”

The Olympics being held now are using the same venues and are facing similar weather conditions as those that Erdman and Loner had seen during the competition in 2013.

“What makes this trip nice, to PyeongChang, is that we, as the Special Olympics, got to be at the same venues that the Olympians are at now. So where the speed skaters skated for the Special Olympics, that’s where they are at now. Where we skied, that’s where they are skiing,” Loner said.

In addition to attending the 2013 Special Olympics, Erdman also went to Alaska in 2001 for cross-country skiing, and trained for almost a year, and then to Ireland in 2010 for track during the World Summer Games.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Erin has been fortunate enough that she’s been to three world games,” Lester said

To the athletes in PyeongChang competing, Erdman is “wishing them the best of luck because I know some of those curves can be pretty timing to get around, for whatever they are going to compete in,” she said. “Just try their best and give everything they got.”

Erin is still practicing through the Lycoming County Special Olympics and does other sports like volleyball, long-distance running and walking, and bowling. This gives athletes the opportunity to be active, train and compete year-round.

The Lycoming County Special Olympics always is looking for athletes, unified athletes, a non-Special Olympic athlete and volunteers. A unified athlete and a Special Olympic athlete can team up and compete together. For example, they could both ski a race, and at the end they would both add their times and scores together, resulting in their placement.

The Special Olympics is a free organization to join; you need a medical form signed off by your doctor and must be eight years or older to participate. There is no maximum age group and there are 15 sports to participate in. The Lycoming County Special Olympics will be starting their spring sports soon.

For more information about the Lycoming County Special Olympics or to become an athlete or volunteer visit https://www.solyco.org/.