GALENA – Jacob Hoak and Tamara Prins had different experiences at the Illinois Special Olympics Winter Games, but they both wound up with the same golden finish.
For Hoak, 32, of Dixon this week’s games at Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort felt like just another year of the more than 20 he had successfully glided down the slopes.
Prins, 33, of Erie, ran her first snowshoe race at the games.
Both came home Thursday with gold medals around their necks: Hoak in super slalom skiing, and Prins in the 50-meter snowshoe dash.
Hoak’s win added to an already impressive tally of more than 40 gold medals at the games. Racing for Kreider Services of Dixon, Hoak has been successful most of time he has participated, but overcame a fall in the regular slalom run before his super slalom victory in 36.02 seconds. He has mastered the sport to the point where he competes at the highest difficulty division.
He finished the regular slalom in 1:53.05.
“Just move on,” he said.
Skiing came easy for Hoak after just a couple of tries as a 6-year-old, his father, Jeff, said. The Hoaks, who have lived in Stockton and Lanark, spent many years making trips to Chestnut, both just 30 minutes from home.
Skiing is Jacob’s favorite winter game, and he believes others can be successful at it, too – with a simple philosophy.
“If I think I can, I’ll be a winner,” he said.
Hoak has spent years wearing skis, but this year was Prins’ first wearing snowshoes. 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 as they move.
Prins was one of four competitors for Beyond Twin City in the 50-meter snowshoes, and each raced in different difficulty divisions. After making it past a qualifier, she found herself trailing Fatima Martinez of Heresy High School of Arlington Heights in the last 20 meters.
Then came a surge, and Prins beat Martinez by winning in 18.34 seconds. Martinez was 1.13 seconds back.
“I went past the second girl, fast,” Prins said. “It was me and the other girl.”
Prins enjoyed her second race better than the first. She didn’t know that she had won until a race judge told her.
Beyond Twin City coach Tricia Manning was proud to see Prins not give up when she was down, which has tended to happen more often than not in past races, she said.
“This time she didn’t,” Manning said. “She pushed forward and came through.”
Prins now has two gold medals. She won the other at the Spring Games in March in the javelin throw. She was glad to have traded in a shotput for it, she said.
Prins’ teammates also had good finishes in their respective divisions: Kristina Rodriguez, 32, placed second in her race; Andrew Landis, 38, was fourth; and Ashley Thompson, 25, was sixth. It was their first time in snowshoes as well.
“They had a blast,” Manning said. “Besides being cold, they all had a really good time.”
The Winter Games provide athletes with not just competitive races to participate in, but social events as well. Prins enjoyed dancing to the “Cha Cha Cha,” while Hoak enjoyed swimming, relaxing in the hot tub, and showing off his tattoo: It’s a Monster energy drink logo with a pair of dog tags hanging from the top of the M.
Hoak once worked at The Workshop Galena, a vocational rehabilitation agency for people with disabilities, and uses his time at the Winter Games to catch up with old friends.
“Meeting old friends is pretty important to him,” Jeff Hoak said.
Manning would like to have her runners compete in the 100-meter races next year, because “we’re too good at it,” Prins said.
She’s come a long way.
“The first time [was] to try it. I’m doing the 100 next year.”
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