Marisa Lombardi, 14, remembers a lot about her first Special Olympics.
She remembers the whoosh of cool air as she sped down the runs, and how she was a little nervous but felt a lot of adrenaline.
"I just put my skis in gear and went," she said.
She remembers the Olympic theme song playing as she stood on the podium to receive her two first-place ribbons in the giant slalom and the slalom.
Most of all, Marisa remembers making new friends and feeling excited to be a part of it.
"It's about going there, having fun, being proud of myself and being proud of the others that did it," Marisa said.
Marisa is an out-spoken teenager. Her smiles come easily and with enthusiasm.
She was born with special needs and is the first to say she has a disability that makes it harder for her to learn. But at the Special Olympics, she said, disabilities don't seem like a big deal.
"I learned that disabilities are not so bad to have," Marisa said.
Marisa competed at the regional winter games Jan. 30 at Sunlight Mountain at Glenwood Springs. She was one of three competitors on the Routt County team at the regional, and was the first to come from the South Routt area. All three competitors qualified for the state competitions, but only team member Seth Sobeski competed at the state level.
"I want South Routt to get in there," Marisa said. "(South Routt) kids have not done this before, and I like it, so I want to share that experience. I feel special that I did it, and I want to get (my friends) in there."
Marisa and her mother, Jeanie Lombardi, hope to get more South Routt children who have special needs involved in the Special Olympic events, which take place throughout the year. With sponsors for the games, such as McDonald's, Dairy Queen and the Kiwanis Club, the weekend trips can be cost-free for participants and their families. Marisa and her teammates also received support from the Steamboat Ski Area and sports stores.
Each person who participates, Jeanie said, is a winner.
"A lot of it is the connections, the relationships these kids are building," she said. "They need to be included in the community and everywhere else, too."
In addition to encouraging children and adults from across the county to get involved in Special Olympics, Jeanie is forming business partnerships for South Routt children with special needs.
Through a new program, high schoolers with special needs will be helping out two days a week for a few weeks at three Oak Creek businesses, where they will learn job responsibilities and other skills, Jeanie said.
Marisa also is planning to have her friends with special needs swim with her at the next Special Olympics.
"I would like to cheer them on (with) all the coaches and parents," Marisa said.
Once Marisa sets her mind on something, Jeanie said, she is likely to accomplish it.
Marisa has not always loved skiing. At first she hated it, she said. She hated boots that hurt, and she hated falling down. But then, in sixth grade, she found a love for the sport. During the next few years, she skied a few times through a program at the Steamboat Ski Area for athletes with special needs.
Although she now loves to ski and ranks her first Special Olympics as one of the top experiences in her life, her favorite pastime is riding roller coasters.
"The top is a coaster," Marisa said with a huge smile. "I can't give that up."
But with the Olympics, she said, she has learned a lot, including how to "try my best, not get disappointed if I don't win first, and just be happy."