For athlete David Chittenden, winning two gold medals at the Special Olympics in Wenatchee, WA was a dream come true.
But after realizing he could not have accomplished his achievement without the hard work and dedication of his Whistler Adaptive Sports Program instructor Sheree Blanch over the last seven years, he decided to give Blanch one of his gold medals.
“It was a completely unexpected thing,” said Blanch. “I walked into my lesson and David pulled this gold medal out of his pocket. I thought he was just going to show me it. He said ‘It’s yours!’ I told him that he shouldn’t give away his gold medal, but his whole family was there and they said I was a huge part of (him winning it). But I really reconstrue that as that if it weren’t for (Whistler Adaptive) and the program that we offer, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Chittenden, 19, is from Redmond, WA and has been visiting and skiing Whistler with his parents since he was a child. He has Down’s Syndrome, and his parents made the decision to enrol him in the Whistler Adaptive program in 2003, where worked with several instructors to develop his balance and coordination on skis. When Blanch joined Whistler Adaptive in 2007 and took out Chittenden for the first time, they instantly had a connection and have since become good friends.
“Sheree has just been such a great influence for David in his skiing,” said Lynn Chittenden, David’s mother. “She knows him really well, she’s been through ups and downs with him and through the years he didn’t feel like skiing. Then somehow they turned a corner and he started skiing really, really well about three or four years ago. David decided he was going to work really hard and since then they have had so much fun skiing (together).”
David won the Downhill and Giant Slalom events in the cognitive category during the 2014 Special Olympics at Mission Ridge resort in February 2014. When he returned to Whistler for American Thanksgiving weekend — an annual tradition for the Chittendens — he brought one of his gold medals with him to personally deliver to Blanch. Knowing full well that David gifted her the medal with the blessing of his family and won’t accept it back, Blanch has yet to decide what exactly she will do with the medal.
“I’ve been carrying it around in my pocket just so I can show people and tell Davey’s story,” said Blanch. “But I’m a bit torn. I may frame it up with a picture of Davey and put it up in (Whistler Adaptive) for all of us to share and make it one of our triumphs, which are a team effort. But with my relationship with Davey and his family, I also feel like I want to hang onto it and treasure it as a memory. Right now I’m just carrying it around by my heart.”
“Every year David looks forward to skiing with Sheree and Whistler Adaptive,” said Lynn. “He’s had wonderful teachers over they years, but he and Sheree connected. She earned a part of that medal.”