Warsaw native Barney Pedraza took a rare day off from his job at Mount Morris' Finders Keepers thrift shop this February, to recuperate from a whirlwind trip to PyeongChang, South Korea where he captured a Bronze Medal in skiing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games.
"I got home on Saturday (February 9th), and I returned to work on Tuesday," says Barney, age 36, who assists with deliveries, pickups, and general upkeep at the store, which is operated by Hilltop Industries, The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's business services program. "I had to stay home to catch up on my sleep."
Back to work, Barney proudly wears his medal draped around his neck as he performs his duties at the store, which provides meaningful job opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities. He earned it in the Alpine Advanced Slalom competition, a form of downhill skiing that involves a vertical drop measuring 60-200 meters over terrain classified as "intermediate."
After finishing in 4th and then 5th place during heats held earlier in the competition, Barney scored his Bronze Medal on Tuesday, February 5th, the last day of the Games. He clocked a time of 1 minute, 44.90 seconds, helping Team USA to sweep the race. Barney's teammates Stephen Lynn and Matthew Krippel won Gold and Silver Medals, respectively.
While they were competitors on the slopes, Barney says that there was always a genuine sense of camaraderie among members of Team USA.
"I spent most of my time with other members of Team USA," Barney says. "I made a lot of friends from all different states. I was proud to be part of the team."
Prior to arriving in PyeongChang, Barney and his coach, Martha Pachuta, had the opportunity to bond with Team USA athletes on American soil. On Thursday, January 24, all 213 members of the team gathered in Los Angeles for a special send-off ceremony at the Crowne Plaza before leaving for their two-week journey to South Korea the following day.
Once in PyeongChang, a winter wonderland located in the Taebaek Mountains region of South Korea, the athletes were paired off as roommates. They explored the area's sights, culture, and — to Barney's delight — the cuisine, which is largely based upon rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, and meats, with plenty of side dishes.
"What I liked most about South Korea was the food," Barney says. "It was a lot different from American food, but I tried a little bit of everything. I really liked the chicken."
Other highlights included the World Winter Games opening and closing ceremonies, which brought together more than 3,000 athletes and their coaches from over 110 countries. At the opening ceremony, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy Shriver jointly kicked off the Games.
"That was good," Barney explained. "The opening ceremony had a lot of people dancing. And at the closing ceremony, we swapped jackets with athletes from other countries."
Barney traded coats with an athlete from Russia, and today the jacket keeps him warm as he shovels snow from the sidewalk by Finders Keepers' Main Street storefront. Always at home in the snow, Barney tackles the task-at-hand with the winning attitude of a world class athlete, as he reflects on his recent Olympic glory.
"I had a great time in South Korea," he says, adding with a smile, "They've got a lot more snow than us."