Every Sunday morning, as the sun climbs over South Florida and temperatures rise toward 90 degrees, Michelle Canazaro laces up her snow boots, straps on her skis, and heads to the beach.
Canazaro is a Special Olympic athlete from Fort Lauderdale training to compete in alpine skiing in the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria. Since the beach at John U. Lloyd Park is the closest South Florida has come to a snow drift since 1977, she practices maneuvering her skis in the sand.
“Even though sometimes I do complain about how hot it is, it is worth it, it so is,” Canazaro says. “I’m just amazed and shocked and very thankful from the bottom of my heart that I get to be one of the 100 skiers from my country at this event.”
Canazaro has been competing in Special Olympics events since she was 8 years old, when some of her elementary school friends convinced her to try the 50 yard dash. Over the next 18 years, she has competed in swimming, softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, bowling, paddle boarding, and, most recently, skiing.
Nancy Canazaro, Michelle’s mother, says sports have provided a release and a social outlet for her daughter since she was diagnosed with autism.
“She was quiet and internal for a long time, but the team atmosphere has helped her break those barriers,” Nancy says. “Sports show these kids that there’s a world out there for them to explore… and it gives them the confidence to move ahead, not just in sports, but everywhere in life.”
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When Michelle flies to Austria for the games next March, it will be her first time visiting another country. While Team USA has her travel expenses covered, Michelle launched a GoFundMe campaign in May to raise money to bring her mom along with her.
“My mom has been there for me through thick and thin. She takes me to all my practices, competitions, and helps me pack for my state games,” Michelle says. “It would just be so amazing to actually have my mom there watching me and cheering me on.”
So far, the two have raised $1,850 toward their $6,777 goal.
“We’re just really proud of this opportunity and thankful to everybody who helped us achieve this dream,” Nancy Canazaro say. “Now the pressure is off of her. She can concentrate on skiing. As far as I’m concerned, I have faith in everybody that I’m going to get there.”