Brandon Undeberg, a 1998 graduate of Chatfield High School and son of residents Richard and Connie Undeberg, stands at the top of one of the runs at the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea. Undeberg coached several athletes at the World Games, held at the end of January.PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON UNDEBERG
Brandon Undeberg, a 1998 graduate of Chatfield High School and son of residents Richard and Connie Undeberg, stands at the top of one of the runs at the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea. Undeberg coached several athletes at the World Games, held at the end of January.


Brandon Undeberg's athletes skied with Seoul.

And oh, it was something special.

Undeberg, a native of Chatfield, 1998 graduate of Chatfield High School and son of residents Richard and Connie Undeberg, coached Special Olympics athletes on the Alpine skiing slopes at the World Games, where more than 2,300 athletes from 110 countries came to give it their all.

"I left Cody, Wyoming, on Jan. 24, and we went to Pyeong Chang, South Korea, for the Special Olympics World Games," he said. "I found out late last summer that I had been selected to coach there."

Undeberg is currently living in Cody and works as a middle school art teacher. He shared that how he became interested in skiing "is in itself, a long story" and that his graduation from bunny hill rider to Special Olympics coach was one of the most valuable experiences he'd chosen.

"I had skied Welch Village and Frontenac a few times in high school, enough to know that I liked it, but the costs made it inconsistent at best," he said. "In college, my roommate dearly wanted to become a ski instructor, but he didn't have a car. Somehow, he talked me into the week of training and testing to become a ski instructor. I didn't take it too seriously, as I'd only skied a half dozen times, but out of the 100 or so applicants, I got chosen to be an instructor."

Undeberg explained he spent the next five years as a ski instructor and took every opportunity he could to improve his own skiing.

"As instructors, we were required to attend lessons ourselves, as well as encouraged to work on our Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) certification," he said.

He became involved with Special Olympics in a similar fashion. "My first year in Cody, I was asked to help with Special Olympics cross-country skiing. I had a blast doing it, but didn't help again for a few years," he explained. "Five years ago, I filled in for the Alpine team twice when they needed a hand, and once for the cross-country team. The next year, I took over leadership of the Alpine team in Cody. The year after that I took over the head coaching role for our winter team, and I've been doing it ever since."

Undeberg said that the athletes themselves are what inspire him to come back, year after year. "Initially, I did it because a friend asked me to help, but it was extremely rewarding helping the athletes and now I can't see myself not doing it," he added.

Coaching Special Olympics athletes in Alpine skiing is very different for each athlete, he said. "With our beginner skiers, you're concentrating on safety when they first start skiing, awareness of other skiers, safe places to stop, et cetera."

The program basically starts out with the glide event, which is basically a small slope on which skiers glide down the hill and stop safely. They then move up to the novice event in which they are expected to be able to turn and stop using the wedge Christie.

"For all the race events, beyond the glide competition, the athletes have to navigate gates," Undeberg continued. "Super G, giant slalom and slalom events are set up for the competitors. So ultimately, you're training them to be able to navigate that course. For the intermediate skiers, you're working on transition from a wedge Christie into parallel skiing and ultimately carving their turns so they can advance themselves."

He added, "Some of the more advanced racers ski very well. You'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between them and anyone else on the ski slopes. So for them, you work on the technical aspects of skiing."

Coaching involves actually skiing, which Undeberg certainly doesn't mind.

"We're always skiing with the athletes here in Cody. I try to keep the ratio of athletes to coaches at a maximum of four to one. This makes it easier to give individualized instruction, as well as monitor any issues that may come up with cold hands and feet and safe stopping zones," he explained. "The state of Wyoming recommends eight practices for athletes before competitions. We do our best to hit this with all our athletes, though usually they get about six four-hour sessions. In order to qualify for World Games, the athletes had to get a gold medal in their state or country events the previous year."

While at the World Games, Undeberg explained that the coaches work together to keep track of their athletes. There were 44 athletes from the United States and each coach served as a "home coach" for four athletes.

"We were responsible for making sure they had all their paperwork in and we gave out information, answered any questions families of those athletes had," he said. "When I left Wyoming, I was in 'state' mode, meaning that I took responsibility for the two Alpine skiers, the cross-country skier and the snowshoe athlete from Wyoming. When we arrived in Los Angeles, we transitioned into 'home coach' mode. When we got to Seoul, we stayed pretty much in 'home coach' mode until we got onto the snow."

It was then that the coaches switched to "sport coach" mode Undeberg explained. "Once again we each had four athletes on snow. As a team, we decided to keep our intermediate skiers together as a larger group, and all six coaches and 23 athletes stayed together as a group. The novice and advanced groups pretty much did the same."

Competition at the World Games put athletes in different divisions according to age and accomplishment. Athletes are broken down into groups by age, first, and then each age group competes against a group of athletes of the same approximate age. Undeberg related, "Each age group is further divisioned by time, so similar ability athletes within an age group compete for places. They had up to eight athletes in each group."

He added that athletes get medals for first, second or third, or ribbons for the rest. Not everyone gets a medal.

"Many of our athletes got medals, but not all of them," he said. "It's a tight competition because you're competing against the best in the world."

Undeberg shared that it is remarkable to see what these athletes can do, and will do for someone who genuinely cares about them. "I believe I truly get more from these athletes than I give them," he said. "The experience is something I can't really explain, other than to say it's like having a classroom full of extremely happy, excited kids who are all eager to learn, and you're teaching them something you love to do. I'd encourage anyone who loves to teach to give it a try - they won't be disappointed."

He observed, "These athletes celebrate together, cheer each other on, and encourage each other when they fall. They know they're competing with each other, but they'll cheer their hearts out for their competition. It's the true definition of sportsmanship...professional athletes everywhere could learn a lot from these athletes."

After the medals and ribbons were handed out, the entourage had the opportunity to tour the sights of the region.

Undeberg said, "We did get to tour an international school in Seoul, a U.S. military base, and a Korean village depicting early life in Korea. All of them were great experiences. It was a lot packed into a short amount of time, but it was all very interesting."

He continued, "Every athlete and coach made the trip special. I'll remember all the coaches and athletes for the time spent together, adversities overcome and the laughs we shared. It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done."

Special Olympics does an amazing job of giving opportunities to athletes who would otherwise not have the opportunity to do them, Undeberg pointed out. "I would encourage anyone who doesn't know anything about Special Olympics to check out There are some amazing stories on there about athletes, their families and their coaches."

He thanked someone he loves for the chance to take the "most rewarding" trip to Seoul. "My wife, Jessica, and I started dating after coaching Special Olympics together, so it will always hold a special place in my heart for helping me find her," Undeberg concluded. "She also works at Cody Middle School as a sixth grade science teacher, so she had to work and take care of the kids - we have a beautiful son and daughter, Russell and Remington, - and my wife is amazing for allowing me to go on a 16-day trip while she stayed home with our kids."