Danielle Lanxon, a 2016 graduate of Belleville East and current member of District 201’s Bridges-Connections Program, is one of 150 athletes from around the globe who will participate in the World Games of the Special Olympics.

Dannielle, 18, participates in snowshoe racing, according to her mom, Alyce Lanxon. She’s been invited to perform in the games March 18-25 in Austria.

“It’s definitely very exciting,” Alyce Lanxon said. “I have to admit that the thought of sending her to compete in another country is something that out is of my comfort zone. But I’m trying to put that out of my mind because it’s the experience of a lifetime for her.”

In addition to performing her races, Danielle will take part in parades and social gatherings with athletes representing 40 countries around the world.

Alyce Lanxon said she’s confident things are going to be alright because she was similarly nervous when she sent Danielle to go to school at Belleville East. But she had faith and that experience proved to be very valuable for her daughter.

“When she went to high school, it was definitely an adjustment period for me,” Alyce Lanxon said. “I was concerned about the idea of her being in the middle of a campus full of hundreds of students. But she loved it there, being with the other people her age. She was able to participate by singing in the chorus. It really helped her tremendously with her social skills.”

Danielle learned to snowshoe race through the group Parent Teacher Organization for Exceptional Children.

“They offer about a dozen different sports that are designed to help participants with their teambuilding skills and help them with their physical fitness,” Alyce Lanxon said. “Danielle does the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100-meter relay.”

Because there isn’t as much snow in the metro-east as there is in many parts of the world, Danielle has to be creative with her training. Her mother said Danielle often practices on the sandy beaches Carlyle Lake to simulate running on snow. She also lifts weights and does lots and lots of running to build her strength and endurance.

Danielle will get a chance to practice in real snow in Vermont before the trans-continental trip for the World Games. The practice will also give the athletes a chance to get used to the idea of travel and being away from home.

While her family will make the trek to Austria to cheer her on, Danielle has to travel with her team. The athletes’ families will meet them at the venues where they will perform in Europe.

Belleville East principal Jason Karstens said staff and students at the school will be cheering for Danielle from afar.

“This is a tremendous thing for Danielle,” Karstens said. “We’re so happy for her because she’s going to have a chance to participate in this great event. Lancers support Lancers, so we’ll all be rooting for her.”

Danielle earned her berth in the world games by performing well in regional and state competitions, according to her mom. She’s been concentrating lately on her snow shoe racing because of the upcoming competition. But Danielle also enjoys basketball, gymnastics, volleyball and bowling.

“Sports are really good social skills builders,” Alyce Lanxon said. “They also help develop trouble shooting and problem solving skills.”

The Bridges-Connections Program is designed for special needs students who aren’t ready to go to the next level of their education or join the workforce after high school graduation. In the program, they don’t study math and history. They learn job and life skills like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and other skills they’ll need to be independent.

Win or lose in the Special Olympics, taking another step to independence is the real value of participating.

“We’re excited and very proud of Danielle,” Alyce Lanxon said. “I don’t care if she wins a medal. It’s a major success for her to be able to participate and have an independent experience. This is about stretching her limits.”