Dexter Youth Triumphs in Special Olympic Winter Games


Olympian, gold and silver medalist, Ethan Marshke

In the heart of Northern Michigan, amidst a backdrop of unexpected greenery in place of the anticipated winter snow, a remarkable story unfolded at the 2024 State Winter Games in Traverse City.

Among the athletes was 21-year-old Dexter native Ethan Marshke, son of Rob Marshke and his wife Dr. Mary Beth Moenssen of Dexter Orthodontics.  For him, the trip to the Special Olympics was an experience of unwavering spirit and shared joy. The event is in its 45th year and continues to celebrate determination and camaraderie as it continues its mission to empower individuals with intellectual disabilities through sports.

No snow didn’t stop the snowshoe races.

Ethan is an intrepid athlete with higher needs, venturing into the world of Special Olympics not for the thrill of victory but for the pure exhilaration of participation. His father, Rob Marshke, explains, "For Ethan, it really is about the fun of being there with everyone else. He really has no concept of winning or losing, so it doesn’t mean anything to him. Can you imagine living that pure?”

In a field where competitors ranged in age, including some as senior as 80+, Ethan's participation was not about outpacing the rest but about being part of a collective endeavor. Rob explains his son’s dauntless spirit is fueled by the inclusive and supportive atmosphere of the Special Olympics.

That said, however, "Ethan ended up winning both a silver medal for the 75-meter and a gold medal for the 50-meter races,” laughs Rob. The 2024 State Winter Games, despite its lack of snow, turned an obstacle into an opportunity, with valorous athletes like Ethan running on grass for their snowshoeing events.

Rob shares his broader vision inspired by Ethan’s journey: “I have a bigger goal of working to set up a nonprofit to help other special needs adults. My world wasn't focused on something like this until Ethan came into my world.”

Ethan about to receive his gold medal.

The community's generosity played a pivotal role in the event's success, with significant donations from organizations like Knights of Columbus and Wertz Warriors highlighting the collective effort to support these athletes. "At the opening ceremony, they received donations for the Special Olympics from Knights of Columbus for something like $118K, then Wertz Warriors for $325K, which is amazing," Rob notes.

As the Winter Games unfolded in Traverse City on an unseasonably verdant stage, Ethan and his fellow athletes showcased what it truly means to compete with heart, where every stride is a victory and every smile a medal of its own.

Photos by Rob Marshke

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