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Breaking Barriers | East TN athlete training for 2023 Special Olympics World Winter Games

"Just because a person has special needs doesn't mean they're handicapped," Pete Jucker said.

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Every winter Brad Davis makes the weekly trek to Ober Gatlinburg, dials in his gear, and heads up the ski lift.

"Today is the first day this year where we're actually getting into coursework," Pete Jucker said. Jucker has been training Brad for the past two years.

Brad, 32, has special needs and is mostly non-verbal.

Jucker helps him with everything from following directions to getting through each gate without missing.

"Brad is a very solid what we call wedge skier, very much under control using his wedge to control his speed. We've been able to get him into more independent footedness, at times actually paralleling," Jucker said.

Brad's love of the sport started as a young boy while skiing with his family.

Credit: Kent Davis
Brad poses for a picture with his family.

His father, Kent Davis, recognized his talent early on.

"He's always had the special gift of balance. I've never seen him fall," Davis said.

By the time Brad was in high school he was racking up medals every January in the state Special Olympics Winter Games.

Ober Gatlinburg hosts the event each year. 

"Being able to share this mountain with Special Olympics all these years, and then to put someone in the program and have the success Brad has been having, it's almost like a parent. It's a very warm, fuzzy feeling," president and co-owner of Ober Gatlinburg Kent Anders said.

"There's a lot of commitment and training that's required. They treat it like a real Olympic procedure, so everything from the nutrition to individual workouts he has to do," Davis said.

Alpine skiing is one of the top Olympic sports, requiring not only physical strength but quick reaction.

Both of which Brad has worked years to perfect on and off the slopes.

Soon he'll have the chance to take his skills international.

Brad was selected two years ago as the only East Tennessee skier to join Team USA in the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

The event was postponed due to COVID-19. Next year's event is scheduled to be held in Kazan, Russia.

"It is a tremendous honor for somebody here in Maryville and our Knoxville area to be chosen," Jucker said.

"The smile and excitement on his face, he knows and understands that that is a big honor and something he's worked hard for over the years to be recognized," Davis said. 

Brad is using the extra time to sharpen his skills on the slopes, pushing boundaries and changing the perception of what it means to be an athlete with special needs.

"Just because a person has special needs doesn't mean they're handicapped. They have abilities, physical abilities, and mental abilities that are just different than other people," Jucker said.

Brad will also compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando in June alongside several other local athletes.

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