February 16, 2017
By Brian Hubert
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. >> One thousand athletes and coaches from all over the state will descend on the Hudson Valley and Catskills to participate in the 2017 Special Olympics New York Winter Games this weekend.
The event kicks off 7:30 p.m. Friday with the opening ceremony featuring a parade of athletes, local entertainment and the Law Enforcement Torch Run at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center — which serves as the Olympic Village and also hosts the closing ceremonies and a victory dance on Sunday.
Athletes will compete in several disciplines, including snowboarding for the first time and alpine skiing, on Saturday at Holiday Mountain in Monticello.
Floor hockey takes place at the Stewart Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in New Windsor at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, and figure skating and speed skating at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center’s McCann Ice Arena both start at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Among the figure skaters is 20-year-old Jonathan Peterson, who has been a residential student at the Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg since 2012.
On Saturday, he will skate a compulsory program (no music) in the morning and then, sometime between noon and 2 p.m., he’ll take to the ice to skate to an instrumental rendition of DNCE’s song “Cake by the Ocean.”
In addition, he’ll run in the torch rally and light the Olympic Cauldron during Friday’s opening ceremony.
Jonathan’s mother, Karla Peterson, of Hurley, said he was diagnosed with autism when he was 3-years-old and was later placed in residential care when he was eight.
“I was very sad,” Peterson said when she heard the diagnosis. “I couldn’t believe it. You have all kind of emotions, what do I do, you research it as much as possible.”
She found herself constantly trying to find out why.
“What caused this,” Peterson said. “It can be very, very difficult.”
Peterson, who was living in Manhattan at the time, later relocated to the Hudson Valley specifically so Jonathan could go to school at Anderson.
Peterson’s mother, who Jonathan refers to as ‘Nana,’ moved up from Maryland to lend her support.
“Anderson Center is the premier program in New York State,” Peterson said. “It’s a phenomenal school and program for people with autism.”
It was the recreation coordinator there, Anna Laferriere, who would set Jonathan up with Laurie May who was running a therapeutic ice skating lesson program with a small group of young men at McCann Ice Arena.
“It was a very beginner class,” Peterson said.
She added she thought skating might be something that would click with her son whom she described as a “positive, happy guy with a great sense of humor who loves school and his family.”
May reached out to Peterson, after last year’s Special Olympics, which were also held at McCann Ice Arena.
“Laurie May contacted me about what I thought about Jonathan participating in the Special Olympics,” Peterson said.
He’d never skated before.
“She wanted to take that first step with him,” Peterson said. “It would be one-on-one coaching and lessons once a week.”
Peterson said her son would take to the ice one hour, one day a week.
“She’s worked with therapeutic skaters for years,” Peterson said. “She understands the ups and downs, the possible frustrations.
“She understands the balance.”
Peterson said she’s seen great results ever since they signed Jonathan up.
“He’s improved physically, his coordination, his balance, he’s attempting to use more speech,” Peterson said. “He’ll say ‘hello,’ greet other skaters, say ‘goodbye.’
“All of this has evolved to a higher degree since he’s been working with her.”
He can also count on help from Claire Macedonia, a volunteer skater who works with him during lessons and gives him reinforcement.
Jonathan’s first big moment on the ice came in June of 2016 when he participated in the Annual Ice Show at McCann Ice Arena, which is sponsored by the Dutchess Figure Skating Club and the McCann Ice Academy.
Peterson admitted she was a bit worried about how Jonathan would react to the lights and the crowd during his solo performance, which also featured “Cake by the Ocean,” a pop song by DNCE.
“His volunteer was there just in case he started to be uncomfortable,” Peterson said.
He ended up not needing her, Peterson said.
“He loved the audience, the music and the lights,” Peterson said. “It energized him. It gave him a lot of confidence.”
Peterson left the show feeling extremely proud and honored.
“We don’t ice skate,” Peterson said. “Without Anderson and Laurie, we wouldn’t of known he loves it so much.”
Peterson credits much of Jonathan’s success to May’s coaching.
“She has a very kind gentle approach, with very positive energy, and he relates to that,” Peterson said. “He just gets out there, steps on the ice and has a huge smile on his face.
“He has pure joy, he enjoys it, loves it and is passionate about it.”
Peterson, a stay-at-home mom who also has an older son, said she does whatever she can do to support her son.
Last October, she brought him to a luncheon at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel where he was able to pose for photos with figure skating legends like 1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medalist and former ABC television analyst, Dick Button, 1972 Olympic bronze medalist Janet Lynn, and Olympian JoJo Starbuck.
Peterson added she’s amazed every time her son is on the ice.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Peterson said. “When he finishes his lesson, he’ll skate with two thumbs up, with a smile.
“I just hope Jonathan can be an inspiration to everyone.”
A photo Id is required to enter the floor hockey facility at Stewart and parking is limited. Organizers urge fans to carpool if possible and arrive early.
For a complete list of Special Olympics events, times and venues visit http://specialolympics-ny.org/winter-games/