Athletes from Special Olympics Iredell County celebrate their success at the Special Olympics Southeast U.S. Winter Games in Blowing Rock. Pictured (from left) are Linc Jefferson, Mary Housh, Reece Williams and Jonathan Humes.

Special to Iredell Free News

Fourteen athletes from Special Olympics Iredell County met up with athletes from across the Southeast at Appalachian Ski Mountain between Blowing Rock and Boone on February 11 to kick off the 2024 Special Olympics Southeast U.S. Winter Games – Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding.

The competition started off with a day of instruction and a team dinner. The athletes from Special Olympics Iredell County began preparing for the competition in early January by attending ski and snowboarding clinics at the ski resort.

Coach Joe Keenan led the delegation and ensured that each athlete was prepared to face the elements by providing ski bibs, jackets and helmets. The team members stood out in their bright yellow jackets as they competed over the course of the three-day event against athletes from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Athletes participated in time trials and were divisioned according to their ability level and age.

Special Olympics Iredell County had an outstanding showing. First-year skier Merritt Tuck won gold in his division after moving up from beginner to level 2.

“This winter season was our first opportunity to try skiing with Merritt and we were amazed with his progress!” said Merritt’s mother, Cate Tuck. “We’ve really embraced Special Olympics as an opportunity to try out some different sports and to see what sticks. Little did we know that skiing would be that sport for him. We are so thankful he was given this opportunity and can’t wait to see what he can accomplish next year!”

Coach Keenan echoed that same sentiment, saying “I just think it’s great that athletes who didn’t know they could ski or snowboard finally find themselves doing it.”

Sophie Funderburk, also a first-year skier, participated in one of the largest divisions of the entire competition. She placed sixth and was very proud of completing the competition. Given the icy conditions and gusty winds on competition day, this truly was an accomplishment for a new skier.

The most tenured athlete of the group, Delaney Hansen, has been skiing since she was 3 years old. She ompetes on the black-level slopes, which is the highest level of competition. This year she placed fourth in her division.

“Delaney loves helping out other skiers and show them how to ski,” her mother, Cathy Hansen, said.

Also receiving medals in skiing were Stephanie Jamie, silver; Jennifer Jamie, bronze and Dawson Nealy, silver.

Special Olympics Iredell County had a record number of athletes competing in snowboarding this year.

Preston Fox and Hunter Williams competed in level 2 snowboarding. Fox came away from the event with a fourth-place ribbon, while Williams earned a gold medal.

Sierra Manning and Chase Stroud competed in the same division in level one snowboarding. Manning earned a silver medal, and Stroud took home the bronze medal.

Also competing in level 1 snowboarding and all in the same division were Reece Williams, gold medal; Mary Housh, silver medal; Jonathan Humes, bronze medal; and Linc Jefferson, fourth place.


Now that the winter season has come to an end the athletes are ready to dive into spring and summer sports. To learn more about how you can get involved in Special Olympics Iredell County as an athlete, coach, unified partner or volunteer, email Bobbi Williams, Local Coordinator at


Delaney Hansen, shows off her skills as a Black Level skier, the highest level of competition. Hansen earned fourth place in her division.
Hunter Williams (right) is congratulated by a fellow athlete for winning the gold medal in his division for snowboarding.
Preston Fox completes his run in snowboarding to win fourth place in his division.
Merritt Tuck, a first-year skier, crosses the finish line to take home the gold medal in his division.
Delaney Hansen beams with pride after winning fourth place in her division for Special Olympics skiing.
Sophie Funderburk carefully listens to instructions before attempting her first run of the day.
Chase Stroud practices for the snowboard competition for Special Olympics.
Sierra Manning (left) and Chase Stroud (right) take time to enjoy their victory on the awards stand.
Merritt Tuck proudly displays his gold medal in skiing for Special Olympics.
Dawson Nealy is ready to take to the slopes for time trials.
Neo Jefferson gives some helpful pointers to her son, Linc Jefferson.
Stephanie Jamie, Jennifer Jamie and Delaney Hansen, seasoned skiers, offer hugs of congratulations to Sophie Funderburk at the end of competition.