Published DateLACONIA — Speaking before a crowd of athletes and supporters a few weeks ago at the opening ceremonies of the New Hampshire Special Olympics games in Waterville Valley, Mark Lagueux spoke of the importance of taking the opportunities that life presents. Lagueux, a senior at Laconia High School, has good reason to say that: a few years ago, he took advantage of an opportunity to learn how to ski, and as a result wound up with a ticket to South Korea.
A relative latecomer to the sport, Lagueux made up for lost time by rapidly progressing. He soon was winning medals at New Hampshire Special Olympics events, putting himself in the running to be selected to represent his home state at the Special Olympics Winter World Games, held January 29 to February 5 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Lagueux, whose rocketing ascension in the sport earned him the nickname "The Legend" among his coaches and peers, said he was proud to have had the chance to represent his state and his country in the event – and that he had the time of his life during his trip.
Lagueux, a multi-sport athlete who played on the high school's integrated soccer and basketball teams this year, has developmental disabilities resulting from an automobile accident he was involved in when he was 18 months old. In PyeongChang, he proved that he deserved to ski with the elite of Special Olympians from around the world, placing just out of medal contention in the giant slalom, super G and freestyle events. "I did pretty good, I got some ribbons," he said.
He fell shy of his goal of bringing home some hardware – his starting position was less than ideal, as the course was icy and challenging after the first several skiers scraped away most of the snow. However, Lagueux still flashes his 120-watt smile when talking about his recent adventure.
The 18-hour flight was Lagueux's first international trip, his first time interacting with a foreign culture. "It was confusing – Korean people speak English and part Korean." Lagueux relished the chance to see what life is like on the other side of the world, though. He employed his much-rehearsed Korean phrases, figured out the currency exchange rate and learned how to eat with chopsticks.
Referring to the local food, he said, "Actually, it's pretty good," though he added, "They have rice for breakfast, that's kind of weird."
"Seoul is the best," said Lagueux, adding that if anyone has the chance to go to South Korea, "they should go and have a good time." He said he would love to make a return trip, if anyone is looking for a tour guide.
Robin O'Dougherty has been a ski coach for Special Olympics of New Hampshire for nearly 20 years. He first met Lagueux about a year ago, after hearing that he would be one of two athletes from New Hampshire to go to the games in PyeongChang.
Over that time period, O'Dougherty said he saw Lagueux grow "immensely," both as a skier and as a maturing young man. For example, Lagueux's speech at the opening day ceremonies came with only 30 minutes of notice to Lagueux, who was asked to extemporaneously address the crowd. For a younger Lagueux, being asked to speak, unprepared, in front of a large group would have been cause for anxiety. The more worldly Lagueux, though, seized the opportunity. "He probably gave one of the best speeches ever," said O'Dougherty. "It was all from his heart."
Lagueux's growth underlines the answer O'Dougherty gave when asked why the Special Olympics World Games are worth the effort and investment needed to put them on. "For the athletes, it's the ability to go, to show that you are good at what you do, you get a chance to represent your country." Meanwhile, he added, athletes like Lagueux get to see others like them, from all over the world, who excel despite disadvantages. "They're not the only one – it was a great bonding experience."
O'Dougherty said, "Mark, I felt, did everybody proud."