Paralympian Augustus "Goose" Perez lights the Empire State Winter Games Cauldron Feb. 7 in Lake Placid.
On a cold winter’s night that saw the temperatures drop to 10 degrees in advance of a weekend snowstorm, nearly 1,000 athletes gathered in the storied Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid Thursday night as the Empire State Winter Games (ESWG) officially began.
After opening welcomes and comments, Ciana Cerruti, a juvenile level figure skater from Lake Placid delivered the Athletes Oath, followed by Tommie Palladino, a figure skating judge from Loudonville, taking the Officials Oath.
Keynote speaker Chris Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, was to deliver his address live, but the 2010 member of the United States Olympic Luge Team was on the ice winning a Nations Cup qualifier for the weekend World Cup races. His ESWG comments were recorded.
“Remember that every day you are not training, there is someone, somewhere who is,” he impressed upon his audience. “And one day you will compete against them.”
A two-day torch run through the region culminated with the Lake Placid High School girl’s hockey team delivering the symbol of the Games into the rear of the arena.
As the torch run progressed, Jimmy Connors, a Lake Placid alpine skier entered the Herb Brooks Arena and handed it to another Lake Placidian, Jeff Erenstone. The coordinator of the ESWG adaptive competitions ran up the staircase to the cauldron, where Augustus Perez, originally from Madrid, Spain, awaited.
Perez, a 2010 Paralympian in curling, took the torch from Erenstone, and just two weeks after completion of cancer treatment, ignited the cauldron as Randy Douglas, chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, walked to the microphone and proclaimed, “Let the Games Begin.”
As athletes departed to prepare for Games action, several cousins, who participate in ski cross, reacted. “I think the Empire State Games is a great opportunity that lets athletes show their skills, but in a positive environment,” said Ryan Ruhl, of Montclair, N.J. “We are here to compete, but everyone is still friendly – it’s chill. Plus it's the home of the "Miracle on Ice" and that's cool.”
“I love the competition of ski cross and have been in it for two years now,” said Ruhl’s cousin, Sloan Ruhl. “I would someday love to be in the X-Games. That would be cool.”
That dream nearly died in November 2012 when New York State dropped the Games from the budget. However, two days later, an ad hoc regional coalition formed literally overnight, and decided these Games were too important to deny the state’s youth. And so the continuity was maintained.
“I have had children who competed in the Empire State Winter Games, and it is a memorable experience to share with your loved ones,” said State Senator Betty Little. “This area has done an outstanding job in keeping this great event a memory that will stay with these athletes for a lifetime.”
And maybe, due to the ESWG, dreams of competitors like Sloan and Ryan Ruhl will take shape over the three day winter sports festival that could not go away.
For more information on the 33rd edition of the ESWG, please log on to www.empirestatewintergames.com.