Mike Lautenberger, Skiing

“Dignity, acceptance, and a chance to reach one’s potential these are human rights worth promoting for everyone. Since 1968, Special Olympics has been bringing one message to the world: people with intellectual disabilities can and will succeed if given the opportunity.”

These words, written boldly on the Web site of Special Olympics, are exactly what junior Mike Lautenberger has lived to embody as a cross-country skier, kayaker, runner and athlete in general. Lautenberger, who has various intellectual, speech and learning disabilities, trained for years to make it to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games for cross-country skiing.

Lautenberger’s cross-country skiing career began when he was invited to the practices of the Montgomery County Special Olympics Cross-Country Ski Team after being involved with Special Olympics for kayaking, sailing and running. Immediately, he was drawn to the sport.

“Right from the start, it was something he wanted to pursue,” said Lautenberger’s father, David Lautenberger.

Yet, Lautenberger’s father doesn’t think it was just the sport of cross-country skiing that attracted him, but the pleasant, inviting environment of Special Olympics.

“[His want to cross-country ski] was in part due to the coaches and teachers in Special Olympics as well as the camaraderie of the fellow athletes,” said David Lautenberger. “The whole program makes it just plain fun to participate, and the more you partake of the opportunity, the more skills you acquire, so it feeds on itself.”

After Lautenberger began skiing with Montgomery County Special Olympics, his first competition was the 2005 Special Olympics Maryland State Winter Games. Although the State Games were Lautenberger’s only chance to compete once a year due to a lack of cross-country skiing competitions, he continued to train regularly. A good part of his physical training took place here at WJ.

“In March of 2007, I joined the WJ track team to get more stamina for my races,” said Lautenberger. “In September of 2007, I joined the WJ crew team to get more strength.”

Lautenberger learned that his hard work had paid off over the summer, when he received a letter from Special Olympics Team USA to notify him that they had selected him to compete in the 2009 Winter World Games.

“There was a very distinct and loud ‘Oh, yeah!’ heard throughout our neighborhood when the letter came,” said David Lautenberger.

In December 2008, Lautenberger and hundreds of other athletes on Team USA for the 2009 World Winter Games on Team USA attended a three-day training camp in Colorado. This gave Lautenberger the opportunity to meet other athletes and coaches while enduring in a tough training schedule.

“There were different people from different places,” said Lautenberger. “I didn’t recognize anybody, but when I got to know some people, I made a lot of friends.”

Lautenberger reunited with his Team USA friends on Feb. 5 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the next day met athletes from all over the world in Boise, Idaho where the World Games were held.

Against tough competitors, Lautenberger placed seventh in the 3K event, fourth in the 4x1K relay and best of all, second in the 1K event, winning him a silver medal.

Now that Lautenberger is home from the World Games with his silver medal secure, his next goal is the 2011 Special Olympics Summer Games for kayaking. But until then, Lautenberger will continue to work with WJ’s track and crew teams, hoping to be a typical team member rather than the star silver medalist he was just a few short weeks ago.