By McKibben Jackinsky
Kinna Ledger, 22, of Anchor Point isn’t one to sit around. Strap on her cross-country skis and she’s off. Now Ledger and her skis are headed to a new destination: the 10th Special Olympics World Games taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea, Jan. 29-Feb. 5.
Ledger also snowshoes, swims and bowls, but it is her cross-country skiing ability that opened the door for her to compete in the games. She is one of four Alaskans to be on Team USA scheduled to depart Los Angeles, Calif., for South Korea on Jan. 24. The other Alaskans include Bryan Knight and Misty Cunitz, alpine skiers from Anchorage, and snowshoer Paul Standen of Wasilla. There are 28 ski team members and 151 athletes on Team USA. Teams from 80 countries will compete.
To have four Alaskans on Team USA “is huge,” said Jim Balamaci, president and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska. “Going as part of Team USA brings a whole new element to participating.”
Ledger has been competing in Special Olympics for seven years. This is her third year to ski cross-country.
“She did really good last year and has brought home two gold medals and a silver medal,” said her mother, Susie.
Finding out last spring that Ledger would be competing at the World Games, however, was unexpected news for the mother and daughter.
“It was quite a surprise and she’s really excited,” said Susie Ledger.
While Ledger will be traveling to South Korea with the team, her personal cheering section — her mother, her local coach, Lake Brown, and her aunt, Dana Snyder of Oregon — will travel separately.
To prepare for the games, Ledger began cross-training in the fall, with conditioning workouts at the Bay Club in addition to her skiing.
She also was provided a training program by Team USA.
“(Brown) didn’t feel it fit what she needed so he designed a whole program to get her ready. Everyone who has heard about the program is impressed. It’s been great. We’re proud of both of them,” Carol Shuler, community director for Special Olympics in Homer, said of Brown and Ledger.
Ledger also has herself on a diet and “has been doing really good,” her mother said.
In December, all the U.S. athletes met at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“That’s where she got all her Team USA gear,” said Susie Ledger. “She has a red, white and blue ski outfit that’s pretty and pretty racy. She’s going to be fast.”
The gear also included winter coats and snowpants, all of which the athletes have been specifically instructed not to wear until they arrive in South Korea.
A ski upgrade is part of Ledger’s athletic life now. They are ones that require waxing, a new skill she is learning.
While in Lake Placid, she had an opportunity to see the difference her training and new equipment can make.
“She took nine seconds off one time and seven seconds off another,” said Susie Ledger. “She’s really doing good.”
While Ledger has much to be excited about, she and her mother, as well as Ledger’s older sister, Pauline, recently celebrated a very important anniversary. Seventeen years ago Susie Ledger traveled to Warsaw, Poland, to adopt the sisters, who were 5 and 9 years old at the time. Pauline and her husband now live in Anchor Point with their four children.
“People talk about how long (adoption) takes, but I had my paperwork filled out the end of July and they called me in September and asked if I was interested in two sisters in Poland,” said Susie Ledger, a retired school teacher, who raised her two daughters as a single mother.
Prior to being adopted, Ledger had been in an orphanage since she was 2, in a hospital for almost a year, had suffered a ruptured appendix, intestinal infections and pneumonia.
After arriving in Anchor Point, the sisters attended Nikolaevsk, where their mother was a teacher, for the first year and a half and completed their elementary education at Chapman School. After Ledger began attending Homer High School, she became involved with Special Olympics.
“That helped her so much with her self-confidence,” said Susie Ledger. “She didn’t want to try anything new, but that’s when she just started blossoming.”
Ledger is active in the church of Christ in Anchor Point and works part-time at the Homer Senior Center.
“We are very excited and proud of (Ledger),” said Keren Kelley HSC executive director. “She came in here very shy and has just blossomed. She’s right at home and the seniors just adore her.”
Balamaci noted the importance of community support like that Ledger has developed.
“It takes so many people to support Special Olympics Alaska athletes,” said Balamaci. “There’s the Homer community and Carol Shuler, and we can never thank the volunteers enough for supporting (Ledger) to get where she is today.”
Speaking for those with whom Ledger works, Kelley expressed a warning to athletes and others Ledger is about to meet.
“Look out world. Here comes Kinna,” said Kelley with a laugh.
The pride Susie Ledger has for her daughter encompasses all the achievements this 22-year-old has made.
“She’s just amazing. I’m really proud of her. Not just for this, but graduating from high school and holding down a job and just becoming a good, dependable adult,” said the smiling mother.
For more about the 2013 Special Olympics World Games, visit www.specialolympics.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.