A group of local Olympians have teamed up to auction off gear to raise money for the Empire State Winter Games.
During a press conference in Lake Placid Thursday, biathlete Haley Johnson and alpine skier Andrew Weibrecht announced an online auction aimed at collecting funds for the local effort to host the popular sporting event.
They were joined at the table by Jeff Byrne, vice president of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, and Kris Cheney-Seymour, a former coach and co-founder of Demong Designs.
Byrne explained that local Olympians have donated things like racing suits, jackets, skis, and more to the online auction in hopes of garnering more financial support for the Empire State Winter Games.
"We have a number of local athletes who have provided us with some of their wears - hard goods and soft goods - that they've used in previous years and in the Olympics last year to an online auction site," Byrne said. "The money raised - 100 percent of it - will go to the Empire State Winter Games. We're very excited about it."
Last fall, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced it would no longer be able to host the summer and winter games due to the state's financial constraints.
Less than 24 hours later, officials from across the Olympic region formed a coalition and saved the winter games, hosted annually in Lake Placid.
Municipalities, corporations and businesses have since stepped up to the tune of more than $90,000 to pay for the games, which begin next Friday with opening ceremonies at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.
Byrne says Kris Cheney-Seymour initiated a movement to get local Olympians involved with the Empire State Winter Games.
"And really, in a short period of time, we came to the conclusion that an online auction site would be an exciting way to involve the athletes and provide them with the opportunity to give something back," Byrne said.
Haley Johnson, who competed with the U.S. Biathlon Team at the Vancouver Olympics last year, said she was relieved to hear the Empire States Games would be continued.
Johnson, a native of Lake Placid, competed in the games as a youngster - although her first appearance was not as a biathlete, but in downhill skiing.
"It's something I moved away from a little bit since I've been traveling and been on the national team," she said. "But I'm super psyched that it's coming back and it's staying - and that the communities have all come together to form a coalition to keep the Empire State Games going."
"For me, growing up, it was one more race," Johnson added. "As a developing athlete, one more race and every experience and opportunity was really important."
Andrew Weibrecht took the bronze medal in the Super G in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
He said being able to participate in a major event like the Empire State Winter Games was important to his development - and he adds that athletes get to compete on tough, Olympic-caliber courses and at internationally-renowned venues.
"I think to give kids an opportunity to ski on that and basically give it a shot on some of the toughest stuff that you'll find anywhere in the country is really exciting and makes for a pretty cool event," Weibrecht said.
About a decade ago, Kris Cheney-Seymour was a Nordic skiing coach for the New York Ski Education Foundation. Olympians like Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, and Billy Demong crafted their skills under Seymour - who stresses how important it is for these athletes to give back to their communities.
Seymour says events like the Empire State Games are stepping stones for young competitors.
"It really is, for many people, their first big event - and for many of them, it's their only big event," he said. "It builds memories. There's an awful lot of fun and excitement built into it. And for those who continue on in sport, it's one more experience to add to their bag of tricks as they go on to compete internationally."
The online auction is currently up and running and will continue until the end of the Empire State Games at www.empirestatewintergames.com.
The auction features items donated by biathletes Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Haley Johnson, Nordic combined champion Billy Demong, bobsledder John Napier, and alpine skier Andrew Weibrecht.