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Special Olympian to aspiring athletes: 'Stay positive'

Press-Republican - 4/16/2017

April 16--LAKE PLACID -- Bib number 370.

That number identified John Piestrzynski as one of the almost 2,700 athletes who participated in the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria last month.

The Lake Placid man competed in three cross-country skiing events, taking home a silver medal in the 1K, 5th place in the 4-by-1K relay and eighth place in the 500-meter.

Barb Thomas, Special Olympics area coordinator for Clinton and Essex counties, said Piestrzynski is one of the best athletes she has worked with.

"But he's such a good sport," she added, "he's not anyone who flaunts the fact that he can beat anyone and everyone including his coach."


Thomas has coached Piestrzynski for about 20 years and said he is the second local athlete in 35 years that has been chosen to participate in a World Games.

She said he used money his grandmother put in a trust fund for him to hire a cross country skiing coach, training at both fitness Revolution and Mount Van Hoevenberg, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics Nordic skiing and biathlon trails.

Thomas did not go with Piestrzynski to Austria, explaining that athletes chosen have to be able to travel independently and work as part of a group.

Via email, his assigned coach "let us know how well he was doing in terms of being part of the team and in terms of being friendly and outgoing and really just being a joy to be with," Thomas said.


While in Austria, Piestrzynski was able to tour a chocolate factory and a castle.

His competitors came from more than 100 countries.

"Some of them were focused; some of them were very nice," he said.

"He certainly is very positive about it, and he seems much more relaxed than he was before he went," Thomas said.

Piestrzynski, however, said he wasn't nervous at all for the competitions.

He has both autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and usually "wants everything to be exactly in place and exactly right," Thomas said.

But he learned that wasn't going to happen on this trip, she added, adapting to being on-the-go.


Piestrzynski works in the laundry area at Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid and lives at Eastview, a group home that is part of Mountain Lake Services.

On April 5, an ice cream social was held at Golden Arrow in his honor.

Many Eastview staff members, family members, his boss, Lake Placid Village Mayor Craig Randall and some people from the State Special Olympics Office attended, Thomas said.

Then on April 7, his fellow athletes held a celebration dance for him at the Plattsburgh City Hall Rotunda.


Though he is at a higher skill level, Piestrzynski still practices with his fellow local Special Olympics cross-country skiing and snowshoe athletes and cheers them on, Thomas said.

"It's the same thing with tennis. He's our best tennis player, but he doesn't slam the ball and try to beat all the other guys out."

Next up, Piestrzynski is looking forward to competing in both singles and doubles tennis competitions at the State Summer Games.

Those will be held at Siena College in Albany in June.

Last year, he finished fourth in the elite men's division and took home a silver medal in the men's doubles.

He is also an Adirondack 46er, and hopes to try to go to the 2021 World Winter Games, for which Lake Placid is putting in a bid.

What advice does he have for anyone hoping to go to a World Winter Games?

"Stay positive."

Email Cara Chapman:

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman


To get involved with the Special Olympics in Clinton and Essex Counties as an athlete, coach or volunteer, contact Area Coordinator Barb Thomas by calling 561-5816 or 834-1190 or emailing her at


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