Two months ago, Tyler Fleegle hadn’t ever set foot in snowshoes.

On Sunday night, the 27-year-old Bedford County man was one of eight athletes preparing to represent Somerset County in the 2020 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games.

“I’m a little anxious. But I’m excited, too,” said Fleegle, one of six contenders on Team Somerset competing in snowshoe races this week at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

Fleegle was one of more than 300 athletes representing counties as far away as Virginia who gathered outside to kick off the games by watching fellow Somerset team member Christa Mereen light the official Winter Games cauldron.

“Right now, this is amazing,” Fleegle said, as a line of skiers began descending the mountain with a torch lit by the “Flame of Hope.”

This year’s games mark the 43rd Special Olympics Pennsylvania Winter Games – and another milestone for the nonprofit.

With 2020 marking the 50th year Special Olympics have been organized in Pennsylvania, officials said they plan to celebrate the achievement all year.

But on Sunday, it was the athletes’ night.

“It’s your time to shine,” Special Olympics Pennsylvania President Matt Aaron said.

Seven Springs Resorts Chairman Bob Nutting agreed, telling the crowd “you inspire all of us.”

“On behalf of our entire team, there’s no week we look forward to more,” he said.

This year’s event is presented by Highmark.

Sheetz – an annual sponsor – presented a $316,000 check toward the event.

“We are thrilled to be continuing our relationship with Seven Springs Mountain Resort and the surrounding communities who have continued to welcome our athletes, coaches, and volunteers with open arms,” said Mike Ermer, Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Western Competition Director.

“It has been amazing to watch this event get bigger and better each year, and I know our Winter Games committee has been diligently working to make this the best year yet.”

The event runs through Tuesday.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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