X Games Aspen 2016 Preview -- Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding
Special Olympics Unified returns to X Games
For the first time ever, ESPN and Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding invited 10 Special Olympics athletes to compete at X Games Aspen in 2015. Special Olympics athletes were paired with X Games athletes to compete as unified teams in a dual slalom race. The teammates' scores were then combined to determine their final rankings. This year, the event returns to X Games Aspen 2016. But here's a look back at the inaugural year.
Fun on the mountain
Here, Chris Klug and Hannah Teter compete in the Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding Final during X Games Aspen 2015. "I've been snowboarding for 30-plus years now," said Klug before the race, "and this is what it's all about. Having fun on the mountain, standing sideways and sliding downhill in the sunshine. Snowboarding's the common denominator. It brings us all together here."
Arielle Gold makes her way down the course during the 2015 finals. The event marked the first time Special Olympics athletes were awarded the same medals given to other X Games athletes. But the heart of the event wasn't the medals as much as the kindred spirit among competitors.
Ty Mahan and Hannah Teter share a laugh before the finals in 2015. "Special Olympics is changing lives," said Teter, who campaigned to get the Unified Snowboarding event added to the X Games docket. "I grew up with a special-needs brother, and the separation from other kids is so extreme. We've got to break down those barriers. I'm just happy to be part of a mission."
The scene at the top of the course at X Games Aspen in 2015 epitomized X Games' mission to partner Special Olympics athletes with X Games athletes. Faces lit up like the sun overhead. Pros signed their teammates' jackets. Coaches stood back and watched as their pupils mingled with their heroes.
Top X Games athletes
Scotty James and Torah Bright weren't just on hand to compete in Snowboard SuperPipe in 2015; they were also there to compete in the Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding final in 2015.
From Rally to the slopes
Ken Block and Ariel Kjaer Ho compete side by side in 2015. "X Games and ESPN put together a really cool event," said Block after the race. "Big props to everyone involved in making this happen, it was a great event."
Skaters and snowboarders
Mitchie Brusco and Elena Hight take to the course during the finals. "I had a blast being part of the event," said Hight. "I couldn't have asked for a better team."
A million bucks
"Being here feels like winning a million bucks," bronze medalist Zachary Elder said following the competition. Special Olympics Unified returns to X Games Aspen 2016 on Thursday, Jan. 28, starting at 1 p.m. MT.