Local family wins statewide Special Olympics awardWhen Peter von Haaren looks back over the years he’s been a Special Olympics ski coach, he remembers one athlete in particular who struggled long before succeeding.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
When Peter von Haaren looks back over the years he’s been a Special Olympics ski coach, he remembers one athlete in particular who struggled long before succeeding.
The young man was not very well coordinated and often fell on the slopes. It took him eight seasons of practice, but one year he finally completed an event without knocking over any poles or gates.
“That look on his face, that was worth all those eight years that we had practiced,” von Haaren said, proud to have had an impact on the athlete.
Ben von Haaren, Peter’s son, knows exactly how his dad feels. Ben is a Special Olympics skier himself, but also takes on the role of coach for the other area sports — bowling, swimming and track and field.
“It was something new and I wanted to be able to broaden my horizons, and being a coach was part of that,” Ben said. “As a coach I can be able to encourage them to go a little bit further and see them be able to progress to a higher level.”
The family’s ties to the Special Olympics don’t stop there. Peter’s wife, Barbara, coached the ski team alongside her husband for many years before retiring. And their two daughters, Christiana von Haaren Czarnowski and Erika von Haaren, have been volunteering with the Special Olympics ever since their brother started competing in high school.
“They looked forward to skipping school in order to cheer him on,” Barbara said with a laugh.
Their enthusiasm, encouragement and love of the program are just a few reasons why the von Haarens were chosen as the 2011 Special Olympics Minnesota Outstanding Family.
Nominated by the Red Wing Special Olympics ski team, the von Haarens couldn’t believe they’d been selected out of the entire state as the winners of one of the organization’s Distinguished Service Awards.
“We were shocked. It was a huge surprise,” Barbara said. “A wonderful surprise, but a huge one.”
The family’s involvement in Special Olympics began more than two decades ago when they moved from Lake City to Red Wing and Ben was feeling out of place.
“I just wanted to be a part of a team. I was in need of some friends,” Ben explained.
The then-ski coach asked Ben to join the team and everything snowballed from there.
“He had never been on a pair of skis in his life,” Barbara said.
But it wasn’t long before Ben was flying down the slopes like a natural, and his first year in competition the athlete came away with three gold medals at the state meet.
He was awarded Athlete of the Year from Special Olympics Minnesota in 2005, and he has earned a trip to the World Games in the past.
However, Ben isn’t the only one to benefit from the organization.
“Through Special Olympics, our family has had the opportunity to grow as much as Ben has,” Barbara said.
The “Outstanding Family” will be honored at the Special Olympics Minnesota Distinguished Service Awards banquet Sept. 24 at Treasure Island Resort & Casino. They said they hope their involvement in Special Olympics helps show others how fun the program is and how much of an impact it has on not only the athletes, but the volunteers who take part as well.
To volunteer for the Red Wing Area Special Olympics, call 507-273-8145, email email@example.com or visit www.specialolympicsminnesota.org.