John F. Russell: Let’s leave a lasting impression |

John F. Russell: Let’s leave a lasting impression

— Mike Bieron is living proof that anybody, even a self-described career ski bum, can make a difference.

Mike, who is better known as Woody by his friends, has played a critical role in developing Olympic athletes in Steamboat Springs for 18 years. The athletes he encouraged with his words and supported with his actions didn't go to places like Salt Lake City; Torino, Italy; or Vancouver, British Columbia, to compete for gold, silver or bronze medals.

His efforts were directed toward athletes with special needs, the kind of athletes who prove they're stars in their own right and win every time they step on the approach of a bowling lane, the dirt of a softball field or the snow of a ski run as part of a Special Olympics program.

"The goal of Special Olympics is to keep the folks who qualify involved," Woody said. "Our goal was to make sure that the athletes in our area had opportunities all year round."

Woody, along with fellow dedicated local Joe Bender, has led the way in developing the Special Olympics bowling program in Steamboat Springs through the Knights of Columbus.

The news that Woody is leaving the program and Steamboat Springs hit hard last weekend during the team's season finale at Snow Bowl.

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"When I started doing this, I wanted to give back to the community," Woody said. "But this has been rewarding for me, as well."

Joe says Woody, who is quick to point out that he is not a bowler, was the point-man for the 10-week program each fall. He depended on Joe, an avid bowler, for his knowledge of the game.

Together, and with the help of Snow Bowl, the pair introduced the sport to special-needs athletes in Steamboat Springs and helped those athletes find the kind of success that spreads to other areas of their lives. In that time, the program grew from 15 athletes to 35 and became a great example of what the Special Olympics are all about.

The athletes in the group compete at a regional event, and the team also invites Special Olympic athletes from Craig to come to Steamboat for a season-ending finale. That finale took place last weekend at Snow Bowl. The weather deterred the Moffat County athletes from making the trip, but it was a success nonetheless according to Woody, who said he will carry the memories of that day with him for years to come.

"It was messy at the bowling alley," Woody said. "Lots of crying and lots of hugs."

Woody soon will leave Steamboat Springs for western New York, and he plans to help care for his parents.

"The program is going to continue," Joe said. "But it's going to take a group to fill his shoes."

Sure, Woody may have set out to give something to his community 18 years ago, but it's what he's leaving behind that really matters.

— To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email

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