It’s no secret that Mike Bielski loves skiing. Although he only started skiing around age 40, Mike spent 20 years on the national ski patrol and then began snowboarding around age 50. For the past three years, he has held the title of the number one ranked snowboarder for his division in Michigan. This year he will compete in nationals for the first time.
But when you see Mike on the slopes most days, what makes him stick out is the group of children sporting animal-design ski helmets who surround him. The “herd” is the Special Olympics team that he trains all year for the bi-annual statewide competition in Michigan. While hesitant at first, Mike took the opportunity and has been training Special Olympic athletes ever since.
The Pfizer Years
Twelve years before he was a Special Olympics coach, Mike was a Pfizer colleague. He began his career at Pfizer as a janitor in 1978 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. From there he worked various jobs in the HVAC shop and Utilities Management. Mike’s main job was redundant systems where he ensured that proper stability was maintained at all times to prevent shut downs of operations. He also worked as a facilitator between the management and production teams to help them work closer together.
One of Mike’s favorite aspects of working at Pfizer was the company’s support for volunteering outside work activities. For example, one Pfizer program donated $1,000 to qualifying organizations where employees volunteered a certain amount of hours. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work. There was good comradery and good people too. I had a lot of fun working there.”
Coaching the Special Olympics Team
For 25 years, Mike has been coaching kids with disabilities in down-hill skiing for the Special Olympics. Currently, he works with about 50 kids and volunteers 40 hours a week to prepare them for competition. It’s hard work, but very rewarding. “I try to help them anyway that I can. They get told they can’t do things, but you have to give them that confidence and show them how.”
One of Mike’s favorite times of the year is the annual training retreat to Colorado. “It’s something most of them have never done and they will remember it for the rest of their lives. That’s my biggest joy, being able to give them that opportunity and create those memories.”
Mike’s dedication to the children was recognized six years ago when he was asked to coach Team USA for the 2009 Special Olympics in Boise, Idaho. The team competed against 105 other countries. “It was a tremendous accomplishment for me and just a great feeling that people in higher levels had recognized the work I was doing.” Mike also appreciated the opportunity to share his experience working with Special Olympic Athletes and encourage other people to volunteer and get involved as well.
Keeping Busy in Retirement
Along with skiing, Mike enjoys designing the animal ski helmets his Special Olympics team wears. Each helmet is customized to represent a different animal.
When he’s not on the mountain, Mike likes to go camping with his wife and 12 grandkids. He also enjoys attending NASCAR races.
Mike enjoys keeping busy, whether through his volunteer coaching activities or exploring his other hobbies. “I’m having a lot of fun and I figure I’ll just keep on going as long as I can.”