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United for Special Olympics

Princeton’s Nathan Warren is shining more than usual these days, returning home from the Special Olympics Winter Games in Pyeong Chang, South Korea with two silver medals in hand.

He was one of five Special Olympians from Illinois competing for Team USA. More than 2,300 athletes from more than 110 nations competed in seven Olympic-type sports. The Illinois athletes competed as part of the 152-member Team USA.

“It was fun. I’d definitely do it again,” Warren said. “It was fun meeting other people from the other side of the world and learning different cultures.”

He was accompanied to Korea by his mother, Cindy Warren, and his grandmother, Anna Roadhouse of Princeton. Cindy called it an indescribable experience.

“Your heart swells with pride to see all of the kids compete,” she said. “We’re all there for one reason. You put away any animosity toward any other country because we’re all united for this special cause.

“We were cheering for other teams. Cheering them on to finish the races. It was awesome. I’d do it all over again.”

Nathan’s efforts in Korea were simply awesome, claiming silver medals in both the 200- and 400-meter snowshoe races. His time of 1 minute, 52.58 seconds in the 400 was considerably better than he’s run before in the States. The Warrens couldn’t help but feel Nathan had a little extra push from his dear friend, Brandon Putts, who passed away suddenly last July.

“I told Nathan to do it for Brandon. You could see that determination on his face,” Cindy said.

Nathan said he knows Brandon would be proud of him.

“His mom said he was in third place and decided he didn’t want to be in third place and kicked it into another gear. It was like he got a burst of energy. I think it was Brandon giving him a kick in the backside,” Nathan’s father, Randy Warren of Princeton, said. “He knows Brandon’s watching him.”

Nathan, who celebrated his 41st birthday in Korea on Feb. 5, ran a 45.58 to take second place in the 200 meters. He also competed for Team USA in the 4x400 meter relay, placing fourth with a time of 6:45.95.

Randy says Special Olympics is the best thing that’s ever happened to his son, “because it gives him a sense of pride and belonging. The competition makes him strive to be better.”

Nathan got started in snowshoes with a little encouragement from his Gateway coach, Phyllis Fargher of Walnut.

“She said you can do this. So she strapped some big old funky snowshoes on his feet and said, ‘Here, run,’” Randy said.

Randy said Nathan naturally has a slow gait to walk, but put snowshoes on him ... and you can watch him run.

“He runs like a different person. He puts those shoes on and he goes. He just goes,” Randy said.

Fargher, who has coached Special Olympics for seven years, said Nathan is simply one of those once in a lifetime athletes.

“Anything I have ever asked him to try in Special Olympics, he has tried. Some of those things he still competes in; others he didn’t like, so he gave them up. At least, he tried them,” she said.

“Special Olympics has been a great part of Nathan’s life. It gave him a chance to showcase his talents in World Games for everyone to see. I am very proud of Nathan, I hope he has many more successful years in Special Olympics and life,” Fargher said.

Nathan qualified for Team USA by winning the gold medal in the 2012 State Games in Galena. All the names of the gold medal winners across Illinois were placed in a hat, and his name was drawn to compete, though he was already telling people he was going.

“He’s been saying all summer he was going to go. Then we found out and surprised him with a party, and said, ‘Hey guess where you’re going?’” Randy said. “He said, ‘I knew it.’”

Team USA got a send-off in Chicago to meet Korean delegates before heading overseas. They got picked up in a limo on the way to Los Angeles and then to Korea. Their first stop there was in Seoul to learn more about the Korean culture. Nathan got to sample some of the Korean cuisine including kimchee (fermented cabbage).

Fargher said if there was a sport for eating, Nathan would win the gold medal hands down.

“When it comes to eating, you keep your fingers clear. He eats and doesn’t gain any weight. I don’t understand it,” Randy said.

“They say it will catch up to you,” Nathan said of his food-cravings.

But put him in snowshoes ... and he’ll be tough to catch.

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