Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs Like any good Steamboat Springs local, Greg Rawlings stood along Lincoln Avenue and cheered as the town’s brightest heroes passed in the Hometown Heroes Parade on Friday evening.
“It’s great what those guys have done for the town,” he said, considering the achievements of three-time medalist Johnny Spillane, gold medalist Billy Demong and silver medalist Todd Lodwick.
Seventeen of Steamboat’s treasured winter Olympians were invited to ride in the parade, as were their teammates and coaches and members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
Some of them spent the entire day speaking to schoolchildren and fans about their Olympic experience.
Rawlings, too, likes to talk about his time at the Olympics — the Paralympics, that is.
The Steamboat Springs High School graduate recently wrapped up his first year as the head coach for the U.S. Adaptive Cross-Country Ski Team.
What a year it was. The team he helped coach — along with Kremmling’s Shawn Scholl and North Routt residents Dave Mark and Jeremiah Beach — brought home 10 top-10 finishes from the 2010 Paralympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Andy Soule, a Texan who moved to Steamboat Springs to live and train through the winter, won a bronze medal in the 2.5-kilometer pursuit biathlon, the first medal won by any American biathlon athlete.
“That was pretty fun,” Rawlings reflected. “That really set the tone for the rest of the games. All of our athletes did very well.”
Rawlings said none of them was asked to participate in the Hometown Heroes events.
Steamboat is a town that justifiably wears its Olympic pride on its sleeve and takes great care to count every Olympian with any connection, no matter how brief the ties to the town, as a local.
Soule, a 30-year-old Army veteran, ended up in a wheelchair after being injured by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. Rawlings said he was inspired to his medal by that well-known Steamboat spirit, but he didn’t even get invited to the parade.
Rawlings wasn’t mad, and he said Soule probably wasn’t either, considering that he has returned to Texas and is busy planning a wedding.
But Steamboat should be able to do better.
I’m as guilty as anyone. I wrote a preview article for Friday’s event, and it didn’t even cross my mind to inquire whether any local adaptive Olympic athletes or their coaches would be included.
“That’s one of those things we deal with,” Rawlings said.
It might always be that way for competitors in the Paralympics. But honoring them, especially in a town so proud of its athletic success in obscure sports, is something we should all strive to do better.