Alaskan Special Olympics athlete wins medals

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The celebration in her honor was going on out front. But Pearl needed to punch the clock for her shift. She hates being late.

Rober Deberry / Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman
Rober Deberry / Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

"She's the only employee who's never missed a punch," said her co-worker David Johnston.

"She's as steady as the wind is long," agreed office manager Gan Welland.

Pearl, 22, has Down syndrome. She won one silver and one gold medal earlier this month at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho. Both medals were in cross-country skiing - the silver for the 500-meter event, the gold for the 1,000-meter. Thursday was her first day back in town and her first day back at her job in the pharmacy.

Pearl's mother, Jenny Weaver, said the experience of going to Idaho for the weeklong event was hard to describe.

"You can't explain it to anybody, how it really was," she said, "the different kids with disabilities who just tried their best."

Pearl's father, Todd Weaver, said there were 100 countries represented, everyone from Afghanistan to Yemen. The Weavers made friends with Japanese and Hungarian athletes. And everyone was cheering everyone else.

"We tried to learn what 'go, go, go' was in every language," Jenny said.

To have Pearl win two medals was really an added bonus, albeit a very exciting added bonus.

"We didn't expect any medal. We really didn't," Jenny said.

Even after the race started, Jenny said, it wasn't clear that Pearl would win. Her daughter isn't fast, but she's determined.

"I was focused," Pearl said.

Jenny agreed.

"Pearlie also fell down in both her races and I've never seen her get up so fast. She was like a jack-in-the-box." Jenny said, before turning to her daughter and adding, "weren't you, Pearlie?"

"No," Pearl joked back.

Pearl said that when she won her gold she pulled the second- and third-place finishers onto the first-place podium with her.

"I was so excited," she said. "And I cried."

Pearl has been skiing since she was five or six. She and her father ski on their land on Lazy Mountain. But Pearl doesn't always wait for dad - she'll go out alone if she feels the need.

Jenny said the track in Idaho was nothing like the woods Pearl is used to skiing in. It had been specially groomed for the competition.

"It was like a Japanese sand garden," she said.

Pearl is somewhat familiar around the Valley. Her work at the pharmacy is just one of four jobs she has. The other three are at McDonald's, an ice cream shop and cleaning the Matanuska Christian School.

The Winter Olympics are also not the only sports she competes in - she also does bowling and swimming in the summer games.

But, Pearl said, she likes skiing best of all.

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