GALENA – Colton Buzzard saw a golden opportunity and sprinted to it.
The Dixon resident was one of four local snowshoe dash competitors Tuesday and Wednesday at the Illinois Special Olympics Winter Games, and he came away with the biggest prize among his teammates.
With a burst of energy that surprised many watching at the Chestnut Mountain Resort track, Buzzard established a personal best time in the 50-meter race to win a gold medal. He breezed through in just 13.34 seconds.
“It is amazing,” Buzzard said. “I was so excited to be there, and when I won the race, I was ecstatic. Jesus gives me strength to do well.”
Buzzard came into the games with a previous best time of 32 seconds, and shaved 1 second off during preliminaries, but saved his best performance for last. He shaved 18 seconds in what he described as a close race in the finals, edging Loyola Park’s Demetrius Smith by 0.31 seconds.
The burst of energy came as a surprise even to Buzzard’s father, Wade, who spent both days snapping pictures of his son and the rest of the Lee County Dukes trio.
“That’s just amazing,” Wade said. “Twenty seconds off his best, we didn’t know he had it in him. It was pretty awesome to see.”
Colton, who also likes to play basketball, has aspirations to swap his snowshoes for tennis shoes and run cross country at the Summer Games in June.
Racing in snowshoes isn’t easy, Colton said. Boots slide forward and are laced into a web of straps, and it sometimes feels like the snowshoes are slapping the boots at the heel when moving.
“It’s so much, way different,” Colton said. “You’re running on these things that look like tennis rackets, you’re running on real snow or fake snow.
“You have to be very aware of your surroundings. You run into things real easily, especially walking backwards. It’s so easy to trip.”
There were 12 divisions of the 50-meter dash, each based on level of difficulty. Colton also faced one of his teammates, Christian Lopez, in the same race. Lopez finished in third place, with a time of 14.25. In another 50-meter final, Lee County’s Benjamin Huyck finished in sixth place (22.16).
Tracie Barna of Kreider Services in Dixon also competed in shoeshoe races. She took third place in her division with a time of 19.31.
Huyck and Barna also competed in 100-meter snowshoe races, but did not advance from preliminaries.
Jacob Hoak-Tracey also competed for Kreider in the giant slalom and super slalom downhill skiing races, but did not make the finals.
2019 Illinois Special Olympics Winter Games
Local medalists, 50-meter snowshoe dash
• Colton Buzzard, Lee County Dukes, 1st, men's
• Christian Lopez, Lee County Dukes, 3rd, men's
• Tracie Barna, Kreider Services, 3rd, women's
• Benjamin Huyck, Lee County Dukes, 6th, men's