A longtime athlete who joined a ski team when she was 8, Virginia Wade skis every weekend in winter while also training in gymnastics six to 12 hours a week. That’s on top of homework and high school. Her work ethic is fierce.
Next month, Wade will ski in one of her biggest events yet, the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, but competition is not what drives her. She’s simply doing what she loves, whether it’s tumbling in gymnastics or carving turns in snow.
“I feel joy. It makes me happy,” says Wade, who is 16 and from Seattle. She often sings on the slopes, works hard on speed and stamina and enjoys warming up with hot chocolate when she’s done.
Wade, who has Down syndrome, is one of 22 skiers chosen to represent the U.S. women’s alpine team in the Special Olympics World Winter Games, the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world. Racing in the Giant Slalom and Super-G courses, she will be among 2,700 athletes from 110 countries competing in the global celebration of inclusion. The games run March 18-24.
As an athlete, Wade pushes herself to improve, but doesn’t get nervous when competing or upset when she falls. Instead, she uses a steady approach that has guided her her entire life: “I get back up.”
The same drive motivates Wade as a gymnast with the Roosevelt High School team. Her determination propelled her during an epic, 1,589-mile, seven-month hike on the Appalachian Trail, which she did with her family at age 12 (while wearing a pink tutu, just because).
“Virginia has always been very persistent. Even when she was little, she was a super hard worker and always tried,” says Wade’s mother, Amy Martin, who is also very persistent. When her daughter showed an early interest in gymnastics, Martin found a program that would accommodate her when many refused. Martin also taught Wade to ski when she was 4.
“We just believed in her,” she says.
When she’s not training, Wade writes fan-fiction scripts that combine characters, storylines and people she knows in inventive pieces, from “Romeo and Juliet” at Hogwarts to “High School Musical” starring herself in England. She loves musicals and is writing one based on her Appalachian Trail adventure. She knows all the songs in “Hamilton” and her favorite books include “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Does Wade ever relax? Sure, in the kitchen, where she likes to make spaghetti sauce and chocolate chip cookies. She also likes to paint her nails in her school colors (green and gold), watch “Pretty Little Liars” (with her mom) and dress up for Halloween (as Fantine from “Les Miserables” one year, with short hair dyed black).
For Wade, Special Olympics isn’t just about skiing, but a window to new people and experiences. She enjoyed meeting her teammates at the Special Olympics USA training camp in Vermont and had fun giving ski tips to TV actor Josh Peck, when he filmed a video with her for Special Olympics and took his first-ever ski lesson. (Video with audio description here).
“I like to teach,” she says.
In Austria, Wade will aim for her best, while her mother, younger brothers Cedric and Duncan, and older sister Katie — her ski coach last year — watch in person and cheer her on.
“It brings me great joy to see her ski. She loves to do it,” Martin says. “What I hope other people see is that she’s confident and courageous. I want people who have little kids with Down syndrome to see that there’s a lot of different possibilities in the world. They can each have their own path to an amazing experience.”
Learn more about Wade’s journey to the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games.