Local Special Olympics athlete gets warm welcome home

Published: Mar. 30, 2017 at 9:14 PM CDT
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An athlete from Manitowoc has brought home some bling after competing against athletes from around the world.

Heidi Van Abel of Manitowoc brought home a silver medal for cross-country skiing at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.

A line of flashing lights and sirens made their way through the streets of Manitowoc today.

After returning from the Special Olympics World Winter Games earlier this week, Heidi Van Abel, a cross-country skier from Manitowoc, was escorted by police and firefighters from her home to the YMCA.

"The community here in Manitowoc is wonderful and we've had a lot of things happen at the last minute and it's all just fallen into place," said Heidi's coach, Kristin Zolltheis.

"I feel like a celebrity," Van Abel laughed.

Van Abel was just one of three Special Olympics athletes from Wisconsin to compete in the games.

She qualified after winning three gold medals at the state games in Wausau last year.

"She was put in a pool of people and she was the one that was chosen from our state and she represented Wisconsin just marvelously," Zolltheis said.

"In the 1K I came home with a silver," Van Abel said as she showed off her medal.

She said racing well in Austria wasn't the only part of the competition that was fun.

"I got to see the Alps. The people were real friendly. I got to eat different food," said Van Abel.

She said she's thankful for her community's support.

"It's just amazing," said Van Abel.

"This opportunity couldn't have come for a better person," Zolltheis said.

What's next for Van Able, who competes in multiple sports?

"I don't know. Maybe I'll try for the world summer games yet," she said.