JEFFERSONVILLE, Vt. -- More than 600 athletes from across the U.S. arrived in the Vermont mountains Sunday to participate in the 1981 International Winter Special Olympics.
For the next four days, the mentally retarded athletes -- helped by a team of Hollywood personalities, politicians and sports stars -- will compete for gold medals in skiing and skating.
Every athlete who competes in the Special Olympics comes out a winner. There are no losers, as every participant leaves with a ribbon, and perhaps with a more precious start on learning.
'They are told all their lives that 'you can't do that'... then they go to the Special Olympics and their whole perspective changes,' said Kate Campbell, a Randolph teacher and Special Olympics volunteer.
'If you want to teach somebody to read, bring him to Special Olympics,' she said.
The arriving athletes were outfitted with equipment Sunday and settled in at the Smugglers Notch ski resort at the base of 3,640-foot Madonna Mountain.
Some teams, including athletes from Hawaii, arrived early to get acquainted with snow.
'They've never seen snow before, but they're coping beautifully -- throwing snowballs and learning to ski,' Special Olympics spokesman Herbert Kramer said of the Hawaii team.
Official training begins Monday, with the help of such coaches as speed skaters Eric and Beth Heiden of Wisconsin, both medalists last year at Lake Placid's Winter Olympics. The Games open Tuesday.
Among those scheduled to be on hand are ice skating champion Dorothy Hamill, decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whose family helped establish the Games in 1968.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder and president of the Special Olympics, told a reporter recently she got involved because her sister, Rosemary, was retarded.
'My sister did everything we all did,' Shriver said. 'She sailed, swam, danced and played. She made me realize retarded people can do things because I saw it done for decades.'
The Special Olympics are sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, but Vermont was responsible for raising the $600,000 budget on its own.
Contributions have ranged from computer services donated by IBM to 3,000 box lunches prepared by women's clubs in Jeffersonville and Cambridge.
The competition itself will take place among small groups of athletes determined by time trials.
'In each competition there won't be more than a 10 percent difference in times,' Kramer said. 'We're not trying to select the fastest or the best of the whole group.'
The Games conclude Thursday and will be followed by a winter carnival for participants.