Every day I come across wonderful people. The kind of folks that make this world a happier place.

Amazing folks like Austin, Anna, Joey, and other extraordinary people who live their lives beyond the average. Individuals with intellectual or physical traits that require ingenuity, hard work, and sometimes a helping hand to navigate life.

Special Olympics is a long-standing organization that provides a platform for these beyond-average individuals that otherwise would not have the opportunity to pursue and fulfill their athletic dreams.


I recently spent an evening observing practice for the Colorado Springs Special Olympics Ski Team: The Caribous. Last year, the team had to practice by driving every weekend to a ski resort to get in their snow time. This year, the team is blessed to be able to do their practicing in the warmth and convenience of a new business in town, Ski Maxx. Located on Garden of the Gods Road, owner Susie Cole has opened up her doors, heart, and talent to training and preparing each team member for the upcoming competitions by utilizing the Indoor Endless Ski Slope at Ski Maxx.


Honestly, it was a joy being in the company of genuine and happy people.  The kids loved being there and the pride in the hearts of their parents was palatable.

Peggy Franken’s eyes welled up with happy tears as she shared the blessing this community of people associated with the Special Olympics has been. Her son, Joey, is a handsome 20-year-old who is definitely built for sports. Joey is one of the more high-functioning individuals in the program with a goal to integrate within the regular sports arena and eventually compete in the X games.

Special Olympics is giving him the platform he needs to develop those skills, and he serves as an inspiration to the other participants. For the Franken’s, it’s a full family affair. Joey’s sister also volunteers with Special Olympics in addition to being on-hand to cheer her brother on.

Joey Franken
Joey Franken

Austin is 23 years-old and has a traumatic brain injury. Prior to his injury, he was an active little boy who loved all things sports. An accident at the age of 10, while playing softball, changed his life, resulting in brain damage and physical limitations. However, this has not stopped him, and Austin is eager to hit the slopes on his snowboard!

austin shepard caribou ski team
Austin Shepard loving his time on the slopes

Another team member is Anna, who has down-syndrome, and she was so much fun to watch. She has participated in Special Olympics for nearly 9 years and obviously enjoys herself, not to mention she looked great on her skis! Anna participates for the joy of being active and around her peers. Her mother, Suzanne, says it bring the “animal” out of her when she gets on the skis!

Anna going hands-free!
Anna going hands-free!


Anna, Joey, and Austin are just three of the many team members on Caribou, encompassing a wide range of ages and abilities. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and community here. That’s what draw so many people to become involved with Special Olympics. Whether someone has special needs or not, the community and fulfillment of working with special needs families are addictive. As one parent put it, “Once you drink the kool-aid, you can’t stop.” 

For the kids involved, it gives them something to look forward to, a chance to give back to each other, develop skills, and a fun avenue to express themselves.

Special Olympics is always looking for volunteer instructors – in any sport. If you love sports and love people – this community of open-hearted families might be a great fit for you. One thing is for sure – it is bound to be one of the most fulfilling experiences and an excellent way to bless our local community.

It makes a big difference in the lives of these kids and adults; however, I suspect it may make a bigger impact in your life!

For more information on the local chapter of Special Olympics, the Caribou Ski team, other sports available, or volunteer opportunities, you can call 719-574-8480 or visit one of the links listed below.

Also, if you would like to donate to the Caribou Ski Team to help cover costs such as equipment and fees, any amount would be greatly appreciated. Contact team leader, Shelly Shepard for information at 941-380-7707, at one of the links listed above, or give me a shout below, and I’ll get you connected with the right folks!