By Jamie Forsythe and Ivy Truong
Danielle Lanxon, of Belleville, was 8 years old when she started participating in Special Olympics. Now, a decade later, Danielle is one of 11 selected as athletes and alternates from Illinois to participate in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games from March 14-25 in Austria.Colleen Costello, of Millstadt, was selected as an alternative. Both Danielle and Colleen compete through the Parent Teacher Organization for Exceptional Children.
Danielle Lanxon is one of 11 athletes selected as athletes and alternates from Illinois to participate in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games being held in Austria. Derik Holtmann firstname.lastname@example.orgDanielle will attend a Special Olympics USA training camp in Killington, Vermont, from Dec. 12-15, along with 149 other athletes who are expected to make the national team.
The Special Olympics World Games are every two years. Alternating between summer and winter games, this is the flagship event of the Special Olympics movement, which promotes equality, tolerance and acceptance through the power and joy of sport.
More than 3,000 athletes from 110 nations will compete in nine Olympic-type sports at the 2017 World Winter Games, including figure skating, speed skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, floorball and stick shooting.
Danielle will be competing in snowshoeing, which requires athletes to wear snowshoes to race in the snow. “They are not heavy,” Danielle said of the snowshoes. “I run fast so I can get awards.”
She recalled tripping once because the shoes were too loose. Now, she makes sure they are strapped on tight. Danielle has been competing in snowshoeing for the last two years.
Even when you fall down, Danielle said, “You have to keep going.”
At the World Games, Danielle will run the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and one of the relay races.
I’ve watched her grow up. To go all the way to this level, it’s a unique opportunity.
Richard Crothers, Danielle Lanxon’s snowshoeing coach for Special Olympics
Her coach, Richard Crothers from PTOEC, introduced her to the activity. The pair has been working together since Danielle was 8 and first competed in Special Olympics.
“I’ve watched her grow up,” Crothers said. “To go all the way to this level, it’s a unique opportunity.”
Danielle credits Crothers, her “favorite coach,” for always pushing her. But, for Crothers, it’s been easy to coach and push Danielle, even though training for snowshoeing is much like practicing for high school track and field.
“She’s very cultivable. I never hear her complain,” Crothers said.
He cited one example from last year’s winter games when the weather got extremely severe, but Danielle remained upbeat. “She gets along with everybody, and they had to pass time with games and coming up with skits. They got so loud a few times that I had to come in there and tell them to quiet down,” he said.
Danielle said, “He (coach Rich) pushes me harder.”
Even before the opening ceremony, she’ll get another opportunity to make new friends amongst the thousands attending the World Games via the Host-Town Program, a Special Olympics tradition. She was chosen to arrive a few days before the games begin to explore Austria, meet other selected athletes and learn about the culture.
“I’m excited to meet my new friends,” Danielle said.
She also said she’s nervous about competing in front of such a large crowd, but she’s also excited about ESPN televising the World Games.
“I’m going to be on TV,” Danielle said.
Danielle won’t start extensively training for the World Games until later in the fall. However, she runs around her neighborhood in Belleville and lifts weights at the YMCA to stay conditioned.
Her father, Scott Lanxon, said Danielle and other snowshoers sometimes travel to Carlyle Lake to practice running in the sand. “Our kids down here, they have to improvise for that kind of training,” he said. “What’s amazing is everything they run on is tougher than snow so when they go up to the state games, they usually have great times because they have been training on sand and other things, so when they hit snow, they fly.”
Traveling to Austria will be something new for the whole family, says mom Alyce Lanxon.
“It is kind of a special place for us because her (Danielle’s) great grandparents are from Austria,” Alyce said.
When competing in snowshoeing, Danielle said she “feels much cold,” especially on her fingers and toes.
In preparation for the World Games, Danielle will be competing in the state winter games in Galena, Ill. She earned gold medals both of the last two years in snowshoeing at the state games.
Special Olympians have to earn a gold medal in an event at a state game to be eligible for the world games.
Multi-sport athlete Snowshoeing isn’t the only Special Olympic sport that Danielle participates in. There’s actually a long list, which includes soccer, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and bowling.
When asked which her favorite was, she said, “all of them.”
She likes something about each sport. She said batting is her favorite part of softball.
Danielle is familiar with competing in large Special Olympic games, like competing in the summer state games in Bloomington last month. She competed in four gymnastics events: floor, balance beam, vault and bars. She especially likes the music.
During her floor routine, she said she does handstands, cartwheels and dancing. She won a gold medal for the routine.
Danielle practices at World Class Gymnastics in Belleville. She recently participated in a gymnastics camp in Elk Grove Village.
She receives a lot of family support. Her mother, father and brother Derek all coach. Derek coaches basketball; her dad coaches softball and her mom coaches volleyball.
“She followed her brother when he was doing all these things. She was really watching him and learning while she was watching him. Then, it became her time to participate in Special Olympics,” her mom Alyce said. “We enjoy it. It’s good to see the progress the kids make. They learn new skills each year. It’s been really remarkable watching what Special Olympics has done.”
When Danielle isn’t training, playing sports or attending summer school, she is swimming at water parks, watching movies or going to dances with her friends. She went to Camp Wartburg in Waterloo earlier this summer and a PTOEC summer camp.
Danielle enjoys the jobs she completes through Belleville District 201’s Bridges Connection Program, which teaches individuals with moderate to serve disabilities life skills to help them transition into adulthood. She cleans churches and does office work like shredding and filing papers.
She likes shopping as well. Her favorite store is Kohl’s.
“Danielle loves to shop,” says dad Scott.
Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe
Meet Danielle Lanxon
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