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Gold in the cold: Watkins captures medals

Golden Valley student wins big at Special Olympics games

Posted: February 12, 2009 2:03 a.m.
Updated: February 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Snowboarder Marisa Watkins of Valencia won two medals at the Special Olympics Winter World Games in Boise, Idaho this week, including a gold.

Representing Team USA, the 15-year-old Golden Valley High School student took first place Monday in the final round of the Division 2 Snowboarding Intermediate Giant Slalom, besting competitors from South Korea, the Czech Republic, Italy, Argentina and Germany.

Each snowboarder rode the course twice, and Watkins had the best final time of 01:37.86, edging Suk Il Huang of South Korea at 01:38.02 and Martin John of the Czech Republic at 01:38.26.

“I was really excited when I won,” Watkins said Wednesday. “My whole family was cheering me on as were my coaches and teammates.”

Watkins earned a silver medal in the intermediate slalom on Wednesday.

She is the only athlete from Santa Clarita at the winter games.

Watkins has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

She is enrolled in the Yes I Can program at Golden Valley for students with and without disabilities.

“Marisa told me she was going to bring home the gold, and she called the Yes I Can class after receiving her first gold medal,” said Bret Lieberman, Golden Valley Yes I Can program director.

“We are all very proud of her,” Lieberman said. “She is one of the most self-motivated students I have ever had the pleasure to teach. She loves extreme sports like snowboarding and surfing, and I have not seen her play one sport that she was not good at.”

Lieberman sees Watkins as a role model for all students.

“Marisa is an example that if you want something badly enough, you can reach the stars,” he said. “She wants to teach people with disabilities to ski and snowboard when she grows up. She is going to continue to have success due to her positive attitude and personal drive.”

Watkins also finished seventh in the super giant slalom on Monday.

Coming into the games, she didn’t have much practice because snowboarding is no longer part of the local Special Olympics program.

“I did really good with no practice,” Watkins said. “I just tried and didn’t give up. I tried to stay low to get speed.”

She said she plans on returning to Special Olympics and competing in other sports upon her return home.

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