Hundreds of athletes and their families from across New York converged on the Mid-Hudson Civic Center on Friday, Feb. 17 to light the torch signaling the beginning of the Special Olympics Winter Games being held at several locations in the Hudson Valley.

The elaborate ceremony was similar to the Olympics opening ceremonies that take place every four years. Athletes marched into an arena with their teammates from their region amidst the roar of the crowd, welcoming speeches were given (in this case it was Special Olympics President Neal Johnson, Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison, and DC Executive Molinaro), the torch was lit, and the games were officially declared open.

Inspirational was a word that was repeatedly spoken by all in attendance as they praised the athletes that would be competing in skiing, snowshoeing, figure skating, and floor hockey in their quest for the gold medal.

Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison called the participants his inspiration as he continues to improve the city where they were gathered.

This marks the second time that Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County together have welcomed the athletes, coaches, and families.

County Executive Molinaro, who has a child considered to be on the spectrum, thoroughly enjoys the Special Olympics because it allows us to witness the capacity of any individual to achieve anything.

The enormous undertaking of hosting the Special Olympics was made possible by several corporate sponsors and volunteers. Frank Castella Jr., the President and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, credits his chamber members with providing scores of volunteers and financial support to make the event a success. Dutchess County Tourism President Mary Kay Vrba considers the event an opportunity to showcase everything Dutchess County has to offer and looks forward to the attendees returning as tourists to the area.

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