Washington athlete going for gold at Special Olympics

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — Stefanie Sarason will embark on the journey of a lifetime on Saturday. But first, coffee.

She’ll begin the day at her favorite coffee shop — Blackbird Bakery in Winslow — for one last taste of home before wrangling her pack of luggage over to the ferry and eventually to SeaTac, where that grand excursion will begin in earnest.

Sarason is one of four Washington athletes representing Team USA at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. She’ll join a gaggle of coaches and teammates from Washington and Oregon at the airport Saturday to head to Washington D.C. and eventually over to Austria ahead of the games’ opening ceremonies March 18. There she’ll compete as one of about 2,700 athletes from 107 countries.

The experience will be a mix of old and new for Sarason, a veteran cross-country skier. She competed in the 2009 World Winter Games in Idaho, where she earned a pair of fourth-place ribbons. The 2017 go-round will offer a glimpse at a whole new part of the world.

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“It’s a mix of emotions,” she said Friday, sitting near her luggage, crammed full of uniforms, jackets, boots and hats. “I’m more excited than nervous, but I try to keep it all in perspective. I try not to let it get to my head.”

She’s hoping to take in some culture and make some friends while she’s in central Europe. She’s even been working on her German to go along with her physical preparation for the games.

“She’s an amazing daughter and sister and auntie,” Stefanie’s mother, Susan, said. “We’re very, very proud of her. The whole family says if we bottled her enthusiasm, we’d make a fortune.”

Sarason will compete in three cross-country skiing events during the games: a 500-meter race, a 1-kilometer race and a relay. Her goal: “I want to do my best,” she said.

Sarason, 43, has been cross-country skiing for about 17 years and has been involved with Special Olympics for more than 30 years. She has the hardware to prove it too: she has dozens of medals from various competitions and a wall in her study is covered in plaques for each of the years she’s been involved with her Skihawks Racing team.

On an adjacent wall, a frame contains a field of mounted medals surrounding a picture of a 12-year-old girl leaping for joy atop an awards podium, having won her first such honor. A blink and about three decades later, she’ll race for that same feeling in Austria.

Coverage from the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games will be broadcast on ABC and ESPN2.

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Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/

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