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Story last updated at 2/4/2009 - 11:58 am
JUNEAU - Skiing helps Raymond Carpenter feel like he can accomplish anything. The sport helped him regain health and confidences after he was disabled in an accident in his youth. Now 26, Carpenter is gearing up to represent his country in alpine skiing at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho Feb. 7-13.
After months of training, five Special Olympics Alaska athletes depart Feb. 4 to join the rest of Team USA in Boise. More than 300 athletes representing 85 countries will participate in the Games.
Carpenter is the only athlete from Southeast on the team. His Special Olympics Alaska teammates are Megan McDermott of Anchorage, Amber Loop of Homer, Ian Frame of Homer and Pearl Weaver of Palmer. The last time the games were held in the United States was in 2001, when the games were held in Anchorage.
"We're really excited to have someone from Juneau to participate," said Jim Balamaci, President and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska. "It's an experience of a lifetime. People like ... the Dalai Lama will be there. A lot of celebrities (travel) there to support our athletes."
When Carpenter attended tryouts he was in the novice category but has since been moved up to the intermediate category. His mother, Bunti Reed, said he was worried about skiing against teams from places like Switzerland and Germany.
"'They're born on skis,' that's what he said," Reed said. "He's a little bit nervous about it."
But Carpenter is no stranger to challenges and is rising to meet this one.
"Raymond's taken it really seriously and worked really hard at it," Reed said. It's probably the hardest I've seen him work at anything."
Up For the Challenge
Carpenter was not born disabled. When he was 11, a tree fell on him, breaking nearly every bone in his body, including his back, and causing him to suffer traumatic brain injury.
"When he came back (from the hospital) as well as having a disability, he was extremely depressed," Reed said. "I was scared. I didn't know how to work with someone who had a disability at the time."
She signed him up for Challenge Alaska, which is now known as ORCA, a division of Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL).
"Bob (Janes) took Raymond up and Raymond was able to ski by the end of the day up there," Reed said. "He didn't just get him walking - they had some success skiing. He came back the next week and said, 'If I can do this, I can do anything.'"
Ever since, Carpenter has participated in disabled sports programs, trying everything from swimming to bowling to basketball.
"His personality prior to his accident still came through," Reed said. "His stubbornness allowed him to continue to work."
Skiing is the sport in which he has truly excelled, earning gold, silver and bronze medals at the state-level Special Olympics.
Special Olympics gives everyone a equal opportunity
Since six weeks after last year's Alaska games, Carpenter has been in training. The entire Team USA trained together at Copper Mountain in Colorado earlier this year - bonding, doing timed trials, getting measured and learning how to be good representatives of the U.S.
Skiing helps Carpenter in all areas of his life, Reed said.
"It's having friends who do things in common," she said. "It's really primarily a place where he builds long lasting friendships and where he can work with people who have a little patience. He looks forward to it every year. His health is better because of it. It's all sorts of things."
For his Special Olympics athlete biography, Carpenter wrote that training and competing with Special Olympics Alaska has helped him "exercise, stay healthy, be on a team, make friends and practice good sportsmanship."
Off the Slopes
Carpenter recently began a part-time job in customer service at Alaskan & Proud, but for the past four summers he has washed buses for Princess Cruise Lines. His excitement for the cruises his own family had taken helped him get that job.
"He decided he wanted to get a job... (and) he decided he wanted to get it on his own," Reed said. "When they asked if anyone had cruised (before) he was so enthusiastic about it that they hired him on the spot."
When not skiing, Raymond is very involved in drawing and crafts. His drawings have been chosen to be used for T-shirts and web pages.
"He's got a killer vocabulary and (is skilled) when it comes to remembering things about old movies... and music," Reed said. "Thank goodness he likes the same kinds of things I do!"
Carpenter's brother Jake, 25, skis with him on weekends, as do many volunteers through both Special Olympics Alaska and ORCA.
"He's a good skier because of those folks and those volunteers," Reed said. "For Raymond it was an emotion saver to have that there for him."
And it turn, Raymond supports others. His mother said he was a "forced volunteer" when he was younger, but continues to assist at the Methodist camp and at with disabled clients at Catholic Community Services, where his mother works.
Carpenter's family will travel separately to the Games in Idaho, Reed said, but they receive regular updates from the Special Olympics coaches.
"The Special Olympics organization is an awesome organization," Reed said, "It and ORCA here in Juneau enable people to do things they wouldn't be able to do. Skiing isn't something our family would have been able to afford."
Carpenter wrote that he "feels honored, happy, pleased and special to be able to attend World Games and is excited to be able to travel and meet people from all over the world."
"For Raymond it's been a long journey and he's had so many people who've helped him along the way," Reed said. "We're incredibly grateful and excited and proud all at once."