WATERLOO — Austin Halverson, 25, proudly wears his three medals from last year’s Winter Games around his neck — two gold medals and one silver — from three speed-skating events.
This year, the Gilbertville man wants nothing but the top spot.
“Gold,” Halverson said, grinning, when asked what medals he wants to win at this year’s Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games.
The annual, statewide winter sports version of the Special Olympics is set to begin at various locations around Dubuque and features 280 athletes from around the state.
Halverson, a Waterloo East graduate, is one of several athletes with a variety of intellectual disabilities who qualified for the state games. He’s also a global ambassador for Special Olympics Iowa, giving talks around the state to help raise money and awareness for the organization.
This year, as in years past, he’ll be competing against his fraternal twin brother, Andy. They’ll both compete as part of the delegation from River Hills School in Cedar Falls.
In fact, it was Andy who snatched that third gold away from Austin in 2017 in the 300-meter race.
“It was real close,” said their father, Bryan Halverson. “Andy usually slows up so Austin can win; (Austin) likes to win.”
Now in its 33rd year, the Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games will begin Monday in and around Dubuque.
Besides the 280 athletes, 60 volunteers — mostly college students, some from the University of Northern Iowa — will assist the games.
The Winter Games are less popular than their warm-weather counterpart. Nearly 3,000 athletes compete in the Summer Games, which include more sports and which don’t generally require specialized equipment, said Rhonda Schwarzkopf, Special Olympics Iowa’s director of sports and advanced competitions.
Of the winter sports, snowshoeing is the most popular, she said.
“It’s the easiest sport to learn for our younger athletes, and it’s also the easiest as our athletes age,” Schwarzkopf said, noting the Games have no age limit and athletes up to their 70s have competed before.
Other sports include cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and figure skating, and events will be held at Sundown Mountain, Camp Albrecht Acres and the Mystique Community Ice Center. Two athletes — one male, one female — will be chosen to go to the World Winter Games in Huaibei, China, in 2021.
Opening ceremonies will be at Grand Harbor Resort, and all events are free and open to the public.
“One nice thing is, with the opening ceremony, it’s held outside along the (Mississippi) Riverwalk, so it’s a great Winter Games setting right outside the Grand Harbor,” Schwarzkopf said.
The Grand Harbor is also why Austin Halverson likes the Winter Games better than the Summer Games — but for a different reason.
“The water park,” he said with a smile.
“And they have a blast there,” Bryan Halverson added.
Bryan said it’s also great for bonding with families like his.
“You meet so many people with disabilities and their families, and you see them every year — it’s really neat,” he said.