Reaching Olympic heights

Friday, February 27
NORTH ADAMS — Before she carried gold around her neck, Jenna Montgomery could barely lift her head in front of strangers.

Bullies taunted her for being different.

She didn't dare try her hand at cursive.

Now, the 15-year-old North Adams native has not only leapt all those hurdles, but she can also call herself an Olympic champion.

Jenna recently returned from the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she won a gold medal in the 1K Nordic cross-country skiing race.

She beat competitors from Italy, France, Luxembourg and Greece with her mom, Maggie Montgomery, and her coach, Susanna Thomas, in the stands.

"When the medal was placed around her neck, I lost it," Montgomery said.

"And then I lost it," Thomas said.

Born with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects about 1 in 300,000 newborns, Jenna was unable to attend the same classes as children her own age. It was at Greylock Middle School that a physical education teacher recommended she try out for Special Olympics events.

Montgomery said her daughter was quite shy and had trouble in social settings. But when she joined Thomas' Greylock Tigers team, things started to change. She practiced skiing and track and field events, and she won — more than 50 regional medals, in fact, in the last seven years.

Thomas started the Tigers 10 years ago to give children and adults with disabilities a chance to train for athletic competitions.

After she won a state skiing event last year, Jenna's name was selected from a group of Special Olympians to represent the United States in this year's version of the World Games.

She trained with Team USA's Nordic ski team in Colorado and dropped her time in the 1K from 25 minutes to 9 minutes 15 seconds, the mark that put her on the podium in Sun Valley.

Montgomery said participating in the Special Olympics has allowed her youngest child not only to enjoy sports and meet new people but to blossom in her studies, too.

Home schooled by Thomas' mother, Frances Thomas, Jenna can now write her name in cursive, recite letters and tell time, things that just a few years ago seemed like longshots.

"She's really come out of her shell," Thomas said.

When she was born, doctors told Montgomery Jenna probably wouldn't live past the age of 5.

"She inspires us every day," Montgomery said.

Jenna said she wants to go to cooking school and one day open a bakery. Her request for a celebratory Olympic meal: a double order of mozzarella sticks.

In Idaho, Jenna met a fellow Olympian, Shane, who she's been talking to every night.

He might be her boyfriend, but that's to decide later. For now, she will continue to compete. This weekend, she'll be skiing in Connecticut.

Her goal?

"Have fun," Jenna said, "and do my best."


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