Win in snowshoeing energizes Special Olympics veteranSuperior's Mike Berg finished first in the 200-meter race at state event in Wausau
By: By DJ Slater, Wausau Daily Herald, Superior Telegram
RIB MOUNTAIN — Mike Berg of Superior soaked in the moment late Sunday morning at Nine Mile Forest Recreation Area as he stood near the Special Olympics State Winter Games awards tent.
Berg, 55, who contemplated “retiring” from Special Olympic events this year, beat out four other athletes in his division in the 100-meter race to win his first gold medal in snowshoeing.
“It was one of the best experiences (as a Special Olympics athlete),” Berg said. “I was tired afterward, but I did it.”
Berg is not a newcomer to the Special Olympics, which held its winter games Saturday and Sunday across the Wausau area. More than 300 athletes competed this year in sports ranging from cross country skiing to snowshoeing.
Berg started competing in the Special Olympic games in 1977, when he was 22. He has participated in various sports, from bowling in the fall to track and field — including a 100-meter run and the softball throw — during the summer. Berg has won 20 medals over the years.
Winter sports, however, were not his forte, until Mary Hanchett, a staff member at the Challenge Center in Superior, among others, encouraged him to give snowshoeing a try.
The Challenge Center is an agency that provides services and employment opportunities for people with special needs or developmental disabilities. After noticing his accomplishments in several track and field events, Hanchett thought Berg could do well with a winter sport.
“I just thought he had it in him,” Hanchett said. “I like to snowshoe myself, and I thought this would be something he could do in the winter.”
Berg’s snowshoe coach Britney Herrick, 21, said Berg had his doubts about entering the snowshoe competition, especially since he was one of the oldest contestants Sunday at Nine Mile.
Nonetheless, Herrick said, “He picked (snowshoeing) up pretty quick.”
Though Berg didn’t find similar success in the 50-meter and 200-meter races, he was all smiles as he left the course Sunday, shouting to his friends as they passed, “I got a gold medal!”
He plans to hold off on retirement for a while.
“I’m going to participate in the games as long as I can,” he said.
This year’s official spokesperson for the state event was Green Bay Packer linebacker AJ Hawk.
Special Olympics Wisconsin holds more than 75 competitions and five state tournaments per year, providing year-round training and competition opportunities through 18 different Olympic-type sports for nearly 10,000 individuals with cognitive disabilities. For more information, visit SpecialOlympicsWisconsin.org or call (800) 552-1324.
Also competing in the winter games last weekend in Wausau were Special Olympic athletes from Superior and Lake Nebabgamon.
Superior Special Olympics
Thomas Williams, 52, downhill, third place; giant slalom, third place; slalom, second.
Mark Lanswick, 55, downhill, fourth place; giant slalom, third; slalom, first.
Amos Launderville, 32, downhill, second place; slalom, third.
Todd Miller, 44, downhill; second place; giant slalom, first; slalom, third.
Daniel Wendt, 56, downhill, first place; giant slalom, first place; slalom, first.
Michael Pearson, 39, alpine-downhill, fourth place; giant slalom, second; slalom, third.
David Rogers, 22, downhill, fourth place; giant slalom, fourth; slalom, fourth.
Mike Berg, 55; 50M, fourth place; 100M, first; 200M, second.
Kelly Cadotte, 34, 50M, third place; 100M, fifth.
Richard Reed, 39, 100M, fourth; 200M, sixth.
Jessica Koski, 30, 50M, fourth place; 100M, fifth; 200M, third.
Lake Nebagamon Special Olympics
Megan Wiesner, 26, downhill, sixth place; giant slalom, fourth place; slalom, sixth place.
DJ Slater is a reporter for the Wausau Daily Herald. He may be reached at (715) 845-0662.