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Teen heads to Special Olympics on snowboard

Disorder won't stop Valencia girl from following her dreams

Posted: December 1, 2008 8:42 p.m.
Updated: December 2, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Marisa Watkins is a special education student at Golden Valley High School on her way to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Sun Valley, Utah in February.

Snowboarding down a black diamond run and weaving in and out of trees is not the way most teenagers spend their weekends. But Marisa Watkins, 15, isn't like most teenagers.

Watkins is an advanced skier and snow boarder who began flying down the slopes at 3 years old. She competes in snowboard competitions across the United States and will compete internationally in 2009.

Watkins also suffers from Asperger's syndrome. The autism spectrum disorder affects social skills and communication.

But it doesn't stop the Valencia teenager from pursuing her dreams, which will take her to the Special Olympics World Winter Games Feb. 7-14 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

"I would like to win a gold medal at the games," Watkins said.

She will compete in the slalom, giant slalom and super giant slalom. The events are downhill races where participants race the clock while weaving through a series of gates.

"My friends think it's really cool," Watkins said.

Jeanie Watkins, 46, never discouraged her daughter from challenging herself.

Jeanie Watkins was right behind her daughter racing down mountain slopes. She will be there in Sun Valley when Marisa competes for gold.

Jeanie Watkins is proud of her daughter and for more reasons than her ability to cut an edge on a snowboard. "She's a role model for other kids with this disease," Jeanie Watkins said.

No Limit America Incorporated is sponsoring Watkins' bid for a gold medal. "It's cool just to be a part of someone following their dream," owner Jason Curtis said.

No Limit America, a clothing company, also sponsors the Summer Meltdown Autism Awareness and Social Inclusion Concert. Being involved with the fight against autism is important to the company, Curtis said.

When Golden Valley special education teacher Bret Lieberman, 30, asked Curtis, 33, if he wanted to sponsor Watkins, the answer was simple.

"It's an easy fit for our company," Curtis said.

With so much support, Watkins' goal is to some day give back. "I want to snowboard for as long as I can. Then I want to give lessons to differently-abled people," she said.


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