Pleasant Hill teen wins gold medal in Special Olympics World Winter Games

Pleasant Hillís Erin Hart, center, is shown on the medal stand after winning the gold medal in Ladies Figure Skating Level 2 in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo Courtesy of Kathy Hart)
Posted: Feb. 4, 2013 8:56 am Updated: Feb. 25, 2013 10:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

PLEASANT HILL, Ill. -- Erin Hart is bringing home a gold medal from the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

The Pleasant Hill teenager competed Wednesday and Friday at the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, winning the gold in Ladies Figure Skating Level 2.

"We are just bursting with pride at how well she did," Kathy Hart, Erin's mom, said in an email to The Herald-Whig. "She had sent a goal of doing her very best. She trained hard, she focused on getting all her moves as clean as possible with good posture and hand positions and she succeeded."

The 18-year-old high school senior, diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months, is one of five Illinois athletes participating in the games, which brought together 3,300 athletes from 112 countries in Pyeongchang and Gengneung, South Korea.

The medal marked another milestone for Erin, who began competing in Special Olympics a year ago.

"It's truly been an amazing journey full of memory-making moments," Kathy Hart said. "Who knows what goals she will set for herself next after graduation?"

Erin knew just some basics of ice skating when she started Learn to Skate Academy classes in late 2011 at the Nelson Center Ice Arena in Springfield, two hours from her home. By early November 2011, skating coach Janet Icenogle wanted Erin to start competing in Special Olympics, and Erin placed second in a field of 49 at her first competition in January 2012.

Last February, she won a gold medal in Level 2 at the 2012 State Winter Games, and qualified to skate at the World Games after an extensive application process.

Learning the moves in her program -- including pivot, edge work, "bunny hop" jumps and spirals -- took plenty of work and practice. But on the ice, Erin's philosophy is simple.

"Do it, and get it right," she said in November.

A week of training camp in December in Lake Placid, N.Y., brought Erin together for the first time with athletes on Special Olympics Team USA and helped prepare her for the World Games.

"She loves skating to the point where she is stepping out into new territory willingly and on her own accord," Kathy Hart said in December. "It shows me that she certainly has gained confidence and an inner strength through figure skating and Special Olympics."

The games will wrap up with Tuesday's closing ceremonies designed to honor the athletes who participated in seven Olympic sports along with their families, coaches, volunteers and supporters.

The World Games are the flagship event of the Special Olympics movement, which promotes equality, tolerance and acceptance around the world with a theme of "Together We Can."