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Skiing takes McHenry woman to S. Korea

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 10:07 a.m. CDT
(Monica Maschak –
Becky Whitehead, 28, of McHenry will compete with Team USA in the 2013 Special Olympics, which begin Tuesday in PyeongChang, South Korea. Whitehead won a gold medal at the State Winter Games in Galena in 2012, allowing her to advance to the Olympics. She will compete in the slalom, giant slalom and super G.

McHenry’s Mike and Kathy Whitehead had no idea where skiing would take their daughter Becky.

Becky was 21 when she gave skiing a try through a program with Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association. She was a novice, although she had bowled, played soccer and played softball through NISRA.

Becky was a natural on the slopes. Now 28, she is in PyeongChang, South Korea, for the Special Olympics World Winter Games, which start today. She will compete in slalom, giant slalom and Super G in the intermediate division.

“I didn’t realize, until this, they had these [Games],” Mike Whitehead said. “It’s outstanding. When we watched her that first time, she just coasted down the hill, I was totally impressed. I couldn’t even ski like that.”

Becky suffered many seizures as an infant, which left her what medical personnel consider “educably mentally handicapped.” She has worked full-time at Cardinal Packaging in Crystal Lake for 10 years and lives with her parents.

Becky won a gold medal at State Winter Games a year ago in Galena, which made it possible for her to be invited to the World Games. She is one of five NISRA athletes from Illinois. NISRA manager of Special Olympics and adapted sports Dave Dauphin also will be with the group coaching the snowshoe athletes.

After Becky won her gold medal, she was selected as one of Illinois’ five allotted spots.

Mike and Kathy are in Korea to watch Becky compete.

Dan, her 25-year-old brother who lives in Arlington Heights, had work commitments, but he was able to attend the sendoff dinner Wednesday at the Marriott on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

“Some of the kids were skiing through NISRA [seven years ago] and she wanted to try it,” Kathy Whitehead said. “Without having any experience, she decided to go. I went with her a couple times and she’s always at the bottom waiting for me.”

Becky, a 2003 graduate of McHenry West High School, has worked with Barrington teacher Shandra Nosal as her ski coach. Nosal volunteers her time to NISRA and often takes the athletes to Wilmot, Wis., for practices.

“I got my own new skis, that’s great,” Becky said. “I already met one friend, McKenzie [McNamara], from Pennsylvania, another skier.”

Becky skied with McNamara during a December training session at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Becky also received new bags, gear and apparel as a member of Team USA.

“It’s amazing all the stuff she’s got,” Kathy said. “She’s excited and nervous.”

Mike and Kathy said the Super G is probably Becky’s favorite event of the three because there are not as many turns and it’s faster.

PyeongChang is the site for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games and is located about 3 hours from Seoul. Team USA flew into Seoul, then traveled to PyeongChang.

Dauphin will be coaching 17 members of the snowshoe team in races from 25 to 3,000 meters.

“I didn’t even know it was an event to race in,” said Dauphin, who earned his certification to coach a few years ago. “I’ve been telling people because not too many know about it. It’s like track, the increments for races go up.”

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