A famous movie set in the hills of Austria showed us they were alive with "The Sound of Music," but during the Special Olympics World Winter Games, a different kind of music resounding across those Austrian Alps. It's the din of flapping hand-clappers, the clanging of massive cowbells, the whirl of spinning noisemakers, and the drone of vuvuzelas and other stadium horns that cascade across the mountain tops of Rohromoos and Ramsau am Dachstein.
The people behind this cacophony are enthralled, inspired, excited and awed by what Special Olympics athletes are doing on the slopes in Alpine and Snowboarding and on the course at Cross Country and Snowshoeing. Fans have opted for bright country colors and regional chants, like the "Aussi, Aussi, Aussi, Oy, Oy, Oy," "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole," "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A," "Hup, Holland, Hup," and others. Some fans break out into country songs and others show their allegiance with homemade banners, country flags and scarves that they whip and wave throughout the stands.
A group of 21 nine-year-olds from St. Veit an der Glan in Carinthia, Austria came 185km north with a giant sign designed on a bed sheet attached to wooden posts to cheer on the athletes, especially snowboarders Niko Beer and Mario Horn, who both from that same area. Their teacher, Sigrid Luggauer said the students looked forward to attending the World Games.
"They have been so excited and they worked hard, so we could spend three days in Schladming cheering on the athletes."
Regardless of where the fans live, there is one thing for certain, they are universally supportive of every Special Olympics athlete. And many people are like Jennifer Woels, of Austria, who is attending her first World Games, was surprised at how emotionally invested she's become in the athletes. "I don't know them, but I find myself tearing up a lot, not because I'm sad, but rather because they are so joyful. It's so touching to see them at the finish line at the end of their run or race. They are competitive, but they also help each other out," said Woels,
"We all cheer them all on. They are so driven to succeed." Woels said her friend works for Coca Cola, which is one of Special Olympics sponsors, so she encouraged Woels to attend some events. "I am so glad I did," Woels said.