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Lake Placid honors Special Olympics silver medalist
April 7, 2017

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LAKE PLACID - A typical, tight community is a collection of people from all walks of life.

On Wednesday at Generations Restaurant, members of the Lake Placid community came out to honor and celebrate with one of their own.

The occasion was a red-white-and-blue decked-out party for Lake Placid resident Johnathon Piestrzynski, a Special Olympian who brought home a cross-country skiing silver medal from the World Winter Games held last month in Austria.

About 50 or so friends, family, co-workers from the Golden Arrow and Lake Placid village officials turned out for the celebration to congratulate Piestrzynski for his achievement. He took the silver on a big stage at an international event that featured well over 1,000 Special Olympics athletes from more than 100 nations.

Piestrzynski, who has autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, competed in three events, and won his silver in the 1-kilometer cross-country ski race on March 21. He captured fifth- and eighth-place ribbons in the other two races of 500 meters and a team relay.

Obviously, representing the United States and claiming that medal was a huge accomplishment for the sports and outdoors-minded 34-year-old, but there were plenty of other hills and mountains to climb along the way. One of the biggest was the fact that prior to the the long trip to Europe, Piestrzynski had never really been on an unaccompanied adventure in his life.

As it turned out, the trip went off without a hitch for Piestrzynski, who moved to Lake Placid six years ago to take on the full-time job of handling laundry duties at the Golden Arrow Hotel.

"It was different, it was challenging," the Olympic medalist said. "The skiing wasn't bad. Some spots were icy, everything else was fine. My skis were fast."

Much of the time, Piestrzynski receives assistance at a group home residence in the village through Mountain Lake Services. If needed, he has plenty of helpers to turn to, and is comfortable in familiar surroundings.

But last month, every part of the trip was a first-time experience, except for getting to know some of the U.S. teammates he traveled and stayed with in Austria. Piestrzynski met many of them at a week-long training camp in December in Killington, Vermont.

"I was very excited. I was very happy for what happened to him. It's a big thing for him," Johnathon's father Edward said as he waited for Wednesday's reception to start. "I think it will improve his life in a lot of ways. In his situation - being around the same stuff all the time and suddenly getting that opportunity to do something like that, it was a great thing.

"I've even noticed a change in him since he's been back," his dad added. "We talk on the phone every night, and it's just the way he acts. It's hard to explain in words, it's an abstract thing. I feel it was the best thing for him to have an experience like that."

Annemarie Nightingale-Duprey, a professional from Mountain Lake Services who has worked with Piestrzynski since he moved to Lake Placid, wasn't surprised how well the trip unfolded. They started preparations together about a year ago when Piestrzynski first learned he had been selected as a member of the U.S. team.

"John takes everything in stride, so when he heard about it, he said 'Yea, sure, I'll go. They want me to go, then OK,' " Nightingale-Duprey said. "He's a determined guy, and once he is given an idea, he doesn't let it go, and that was his drive."

When Piestrzynski was chosen to represent the U.S., Nightingale-Duprey, and Karina Lombart, another Mountain Lake Services direct-support professional, helped him put together a training plan that focused on workouts and a good diet. And since he was an active and motivated person already, including being a member of the Adirondack 46ers, Nightingale-Duprey wasn't surprised that he'd be prepared to step out on his own and be ready to compete.

"Of course he had his little rally of team players around him," she said. "'We're going to help you narrow that path down to what you really need to do to get ready.' We pretty much gave him a workout schedule, five to six days a week with one rest day. We planned meals for him where he had to keep track of what he ate with a food journal, but we didn't really have to have a strict diet because of the calories he's putting out being physically active. And he also kept track with a fitness journal."

Actually, Nightingale-Duprey may have been a bit surprised with the level of enthusiasm that Piestrzynski poured into following and documenting his training.

"He stuck with every single bit of it," she exclaimed at the celebration. "We still have the journal to this day. In the beginning it was 'I need help, I need help. Do I have to do this?' We said this is for you to become independent and confident in everything you're going to be doing when we're not here. This is going to track everything you're going to put into this goal, and you can look back at it.

"It took off. He ended up doing it all on his own," she continued. "If he couldn't spell something, he found it. If he couldn't get it from us, and we stopped telling him, he'd go somewhere else. He found it on the box of cereal, or on the sprouted bread. He'd find it and he'd spell it."

Piestrzynski's training incorporated a number of activities, including cross-country skiing three times a week. He also took on three one-hour workouts per week at Fitness Revolution in Lake Placid, made trips to the gym and hiked.

"He's always involved in some kind of special Olympic sport," Nightingale-Duprey said. "Now he's transitioning to tennis. Softball, basketball, whatever he can fit in around his work schedule, he's being active. Right now he's actually looking into a bicycle team. He has a road bike, he has a mountain bike, he downhills (skis) and he's good."

More than a handful of people congratulated Piestrzynski at Generations.

"I was proud," Edward Piestrzynski said. "I was proud last year when he won medals for the state championship. He's won state medals for summer stuff. I never thought it would go this far and I'm very happy it has."

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, who is involved in an effort along with a local team to bring the 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games to the area, also honored Lake Placid's newest Olympic medalist at the event.

After presenting Piestrzynski with a framed, signed photo from the competition in Austria while declaring the Special Olympian an ambassador of Lake Placid.

"You might not have to travel for the next Special Winter Olympics," the Mayor told him. "We'll keep our fingers crossed."

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