In January, Larry Strobridge will head to PyeongChang, South Korea, to compete in the World Winter Games as a member of Special Olympics Team USA. Larry has an intellectual disability and has been a Special Olympian for more than 20 years. He is looking forward to the chance to represent his county at his first international competition.
Larry was adopted at the age of two and a half with nothing but a few articles of clothing to call his own. His mother, Louella, has proudly watched him mature into a man and thinks Special Olympics has played a big role. As a child, Larry was always the last one chosen for team sports, but in Special Olympics, he found a more compassionate group of athletes. Louella remembers watching a cross-country ski race in which one of the racers fell and got entangled in her equipment. The other athletes stopped to help her get up before continuing the race. “It’s just amazing to see them,” she said. “They’re accepting, and they help each other, and it has become Larry’s social outlet.”
Over the years, Larry received numerous medals and ribbons for downhill skiing; then one day, he decided he’d had enough and switched to snowboarding, becoming one of the first snowboarders on the Special Olympics team. Louella was pleased he had enough courage and self-esteem to try something new. “It’s not just getting the gold medal,” she said. “He wants to succeed, but sometimes he’s just as happy to be out there and cheering on his teammates.”
VS: When did you start snowboarding?
LS: I started three years ago at Sugarbush. Skiing got old, and I was looking for a new sport and a new opportunity. It took about a year to learn, but I did it by myself without any training. Now I don’t ski anymore.
VS: What do you like about it?
LS: It’s fast and fun. I compete on a giant slalom course. Burton set me up with a brand new snowboard and boots and bindings and featured me on their blog. Hannah Teeter was at the Special Olympic Summer Games to announce the winter world team members, and she signed my board.
VS: What was it like to meet Hannah Teeter?
LS: Meeting her was awesome. She is pretty. She was really friendly, and it was cool to have my picture taken with her. I was really surprised to get the snowboard. It was the first new snowboard I’ve ever had. I’m looking forward to seeing her again in South Korea.
VS: Do you do any tricks or ride the half-pipe?
LS: I’m strictly a racer.
VS: What do you enjoy about racing?
LS: It’s fun to try to better your own time, and it’s fun to compete against others.
VS: When did you start participating in Special Olympics?
LS: I started 26 years ago as an Alpine skier and I’ve been competing for the last 17 or 18 years. The last three years I’ve been working with (coach) Kirk Bosworth.
VS: Are you excited about going to South Korea? How are you preparing?
LS: I’m excited to go. I’m looking forward to snowboarding down a big hill, and I’ve already looked at the trail map. No matter where I am, I just enjoy snowboarding and coming down a hill as fast as I can. Right now, my only preparation is practicing my snowboard. I do dry land training each week, and as soon as we get snow ,I’ll work with my coach. In December ,we’ll spend five days in Lake Placid so team members can meet one another. That’s where I’ll get my uniform and do some more training. This week I got to speak to the US snowboarding coach and that was a lot of fun. I’m ready to go, and I’m not nervous.
VS: How far have you traveled for competitions?
LS: I went to Woodstock, Vermont, for last year’s state games where I won a gold medal. That made me eligible for Team USA, and I was selected to go by Special Olympics Vermont.
VS: Do you think you’re a role model for other people with intellectual disabilities?
LS: I don’t really feel like a role model. A former teammate of mine, Bob Kay, passed away recently, and he was a real role model. Maybe I can be a role model by coaching the Chittenden County team next year.
VS: What other sports do you do?
LS: I just snowboard.
VS: How do you keep in shape in the summer?
LS: I do weekly dry land training in South Burlington. So far that has meant walking approximately two miles at a fast pace, and doing stretching and strength exercises once a week. We [other World Games athletes] have fun doing it together. We get to be better athletes while having a laugh.
VS: What to do you for fun?
LS: I raise chickens. I have between 20 and 46 at a time. I also help out on the farm in Westford. Right now I have 44 chickens. My mom will take care of them when I’m in South Korea.