Rob Wagner measures Special Olympics success by the size and quantity of smiles.
And Wagner, who is coaching a team of Special Olympics athletes from Cedar Rapids this week at Sundown Mountain Resort, said there are plenty of smiles to go around.
“This is about who has the biggest smile at the end of the day,” he said.
About 280 athletes converged Monday on the Dubuque area, kicking off two days of competition in the 34th annual Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games.
Special Olympics Iowa provides sports training and athletic competition in a variety of events for people with intellectual disabilities. Winter Games events are held at Sundown, Mystique Community Ice Center and Camp Albrecht Acres.
Wagner has taught adaptive skiing for more than 30 years.
“I have a couple of athletes who have been here 20 times and another fellow who is here for the first time,” Wagner said. “Everybody is having a great time.”
Charity Hodson, 39, of Des Moines, is competing in Dubuque for the first time.
“So far, it’s been pretty fun,” said Hodson, a cross-country skier. “Everyone gets to compete and everybody is accepted.”
Hodson glanced at the Sundown slopes, filled with competing athletes.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Hodson said. “I love the view.”
Karla Weber, the coach of the Special Olympics cross-country skiing team from Dubuque’s Hempstead High School, said her students greet the annual Winter Games with excitement.
“We really try to encourage everyone to participate,” Weber said. “I absolutely love it.”
Weber said her athletes “are always in a good mood.”
“They’re in it to have fun and they are so proud of themselves and what they accomplish,” she said. “We’re excited to see them compete and the smiles on their faces.”
One of Weber’s athletes, Melanie Masinovic, 16, of Dubuque, is a sophomore at Hempstead.
Masinovic said she enjoyed herself Monday — both on the cross-country skiing course created near Sundown’s parking lot and in the south lodge between events.
“It was fun,” Masinovic said. “We played games.”
Masinovic said she felt proud of herself while competing.
Mallory Earnest, 35, of Iowa City, also said she enjoyed competing.
“They say winning isn’t everything, but I’m going to try,” Earnest said. “No matter how I do, I will feel like a winner.”