Special Olympics Alaska athlete
by Emily Tymick
When Gretchen Winter reached the age of two and got a head start, her mom could not catch her. Flash forward 26 years later: Winter is preparing to represent Alaska on the national stage at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, as a middle-distance track and field athlete.
It wasn’t until 10th grade at Palmer High that her running career began. Her parents encouraged her to try out for the cross-country team, and despite never having run competitively, she made it onto the varsity squad.
Winter was the top Palmer girl that year in cross country, winning the team MVP award, and later becoming a middle-distance runner on the Palmer track team, where she earned a medal at the Alaska State Meet in 2010. In 2009, she had joined the Nordic ski team, which helped get her into great shape for the track season.
After earning her high school diploma, Winter turned her efforts toward job skills and training opportunities. She attended Shepherds College, a school for young adults with cognitive challenges, in Wisconsin. It was there, in the spring of 2018, that Winter first got involved in Special Olympics sports.
When she returned home in 2018, she began participating in the Special Olympics Alaska Mat-Su community. Since then, she has won more than a dozen gold medals in snowshoeing, track and field, and alpine skiing.
Special Olympics has been transformative for Winter. She has discovered success and is a role-model to the other athletes. As a Special Olympics Health Messenger, she has found an avenue with which to share her love of exercise. In addition to finding success in sports, she is also involved in church youth groups, is a licensed driver, and holds a permanent position at Home Depot.
To give herself the best chance at winning races, Winter works with a local coach twice a week to improve her flexibility, form, and speed. Having a chance to compete on a national stage while doing something she loves—running fast—while representing the great state of Alaska is a dream come true for her. However, as the Orlando games approach, she acknowledges that going to Disney World is a nice dream, too.