By Danielle Chazen
Two Maryland athletes, Jill Durbin and Jake Reynolds, will begin training for Team USA in mid-December, and this pair has overcome more challenges and pushed greater barriers than most athletes combined.
Durbin, 44, a snowshoe athlete from Montgomery County, and Reynolds, 20, an Alpine skier from Allegany County, are both members of the Special Olympics Team USA and are set to compete in the 2013 World Winter Games, Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2013, in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Durbin is developmentally disabled and functions at the level of a third-grader academically, while Reynolds is autistic. Yet neither athlete has allowed a disability to stand in the way of suiting up in red, white and blue. Although both have proved in the past that they belong on the big stage, it was a lucky draw from a hat that played in their favor this year.
Last year's 2012 Special Olympics Maryland Winter Games, which served as the qualifying round for South Korea, were canceled because of inclement weather. More than 200 local athletes were left unable to participate.
Despite the cancellation, Special Olympics Maryland was allotted two openings for state athletes to join Team USA. The names of the athletes who won gold medals during the 2011 Special Olympics Maryland Winter Games went into a hat. Durbin's and Reynolds' names were selected, giving them the opportunity to represent Team USA for Maryland in South Korea.
Their mothers said they were thankful for the opportunities the Special Olympics had provided for their children.
"The Special Olympics has been a lifesaver for Jill," said her mother, Nancy Durbin. "It has been her social life. It's everything to her, and gives her a chance to be independent. Not only does it help to keep her physically active, but the opportunities to meet other athletes and travel are incredible."
Not only was Jill Durbin born with a mental disability, but she also received a kidney transplant, which requires her to take 15 pills each day.
"Jill has been competing since she was 13 and is so remarkable and mature," Nancy Durbin said. "She is able to handle her medications, and while traveling away from home will be hard on her, I have no doubts that the Special Olympics will keep her safe."
Jill will travel first to California before flying to South Korea.
Alpine skier Reynolds moved to Maryland five years ago from Los Angeles and had never seen snow before, but that didn't keep him from competing and winning gold medals in snowshoeing. He began skiing only three years ago.
"It's always been hard for Jake to keep up with the other kids," said his mother, Pam Reynolds, "but now he's found something that he's a natural at, and in only a few short years."
Alpine skiing is no easy feat for beginners. The sport combines endurance, strength, quickness, and speed in action and reaction time.
"Jake is not very competitive," Pam Reynolds said. "He doesn't respond to winning more than doing and participating. It's hard to articulate what competing has done for him. It's not just the skills, but the confidence he has gained and the camaraderie with other teammates."
Pam Reynolds said the challenge for her son was not so much physical as it was mental.
"We've been trying to prepare Jake for the games with an understanding of how big of a deal competing really is," she said. "He's been given the opportunity to represent his country, which is huge."
Reynolds said she highly recommended that mentally disabled children and their parents look into the Special Olympics.
"There are so many sports, even activities which are not as physically demanding, like bocce ball for example," she said. "Involvement in the games is wonderful for the athlete's self-confidence and provides families with a support system and network of other families, which also have children with mental disabilities."
Other sports featured in the World Winter Games include cross-country skiing, figure skating, snowboarding and speed skating.
Although she is blown away by her own son's natural abilities, Pam Reynolds said she was most touched by Special Olympics volunteers.
"Their work is so incredible, and they are so dedicated to making the games a success," she said. "Their time and effort are deeply appreciated."
The 2013 Special Olympics Team USA is made up of 151 athletes, 44 coaches and four medical professionals.
More than 10,000 athletes participate in the Special Olympics' free sports training and competition programs throughout the year, beginning as early as age 2.
More Cheap Seats:
• Noted Man Of Vision Passes Away At 94
• Durban And Reynolds To Compete In S. Korea
• Hall Is Coming Home As A Wee Globetrotter
• Orioles Offering Suite Deals For Fans In 2013
• Westminster Team Improves In Hurry
• Forrester Tees Off In New Position
Issue 180: December 2012