Nearly 2,300 athletes are in the Lake Placid region this weekend for the 37th annual Empire State Winter Games, the largest amateur winter athletic sporting event in North America. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was at the opening ceremonies Thursday evening.
The Empire State Winter Games features nearly 2,300 competitors of all ages in 31 sports. They marched onto the Herb Brooks arena by discipline Thursday night. The groupings ranged from a single athlete competing in marathon skating to large groups representing ice hockey, skiing and figure skaters. “Let’s get a warm round of applause going for our adaptive athletes. Here they come. Let’s welcome our alpine skiing athletes.”
After the athletes settled into their seats they saw a video from past Empire State Winter Games athletes now competing internationally. Then the entertainers took to center ice. Brooklyn-based Bulletrun showcased parkour, described by emcee David McCahill. “So this is called free running. It’s defined as a discipline using movements developed from military obstacle training. The goal: to get from one point to another in a complex environment without assisting equipment in the fastest most efficient way possible.”
Phat bikers Sam Perkins and Joe Jinicki rode, leapt and twisted through a multi-tiered obstacle course and Quebec speed skater Sylvian Leclerc jumped over barrels.
Following the entertainment, 2014 Olympic ski jumper Nick Fairall spoke to the crowd. In 2014 he broke his back during competition in Austria. Now wheelchair confined, he spoke about keeping a strong mental attitude. “My time as an athlete gave me a significant boost in my recovery. And that boost was the difference between sitting on the couch and feeling sorry for myself or going out and doing the things that I enjoyed doing. So go out and begin to learn from every situation. Whether it’s a success or a failure learn from it.”
The evening’s zenith arrived when the 37th Empire State Winter Games torch entered the arena and Joseph Wilson of Keene lit the cauldron to begin the three days of competition. “So Trinity is now going to pass the torch onto Joseph Wilson, a cross country skiing athlete, who will be lighting our Empire State Winter Games torch. Let the games begin!”
Figure skater Lily Keidel traveled from Niagara Falls to compete for the third time. She was on the arena ice near the burning cauldron next to Whitey Keidel. “It’s really cool and a great opportunity.”
Whitey: “She’s won here in the last 2 years and if you win here you have the opportunity to go on to the..what is it called, the?”
Lily: “Skate Games of America. It just makes me a better skater by having the opportunity to compete and compete and just get more comfortable with competition. I used to be like so nervous where I was like shaking, but now I’m not really that nervous anymore. I’m mostly excited.”
Whitey: “If she can handle it I can handle it!”
Budget cuts eliminated state sponsorship of the games in 2011 before a partnership between the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and local communities reorganized and expanded the games. Although most athletes are from New York, this year there are competitors from across the U.S., Canada and Argentina.