RAMSAU, Austria -- John Piestrzynski wanted to move. He needed to move. But as he waited in the exchange area for his U.S. teammate Nicholas Mendiguren to complete the first leg of the 4x1 kilometer relay at the Special Olympics World Winter Games on Wednesday morning, he knew he needed to be patient. That was easier thought than done.
"He was like a horse that's ready to run," said U.S. head cross-country coach Dave Bregenzer. "I literally had to hold onto him until it was his turn to ski. He wanted to go."
Restlessness has been a recurring theme in Piestrzynski's life. Once he sets his mind on a goal, he doesn't spend much time standing around thinking about it. "John's really good at getting out there and just going," said coach Mike White. "That's been great for the team, because when we're training as a group, it can be hard to get people moving. John's a leader in that sense. We just say, 'Go. Follow John.'"
A passionate athlete who has also competed in softball and basketball at the Special Olympics, Piestrzynski, 34, was a perfect candidate when, in 2010, Tony Charles and Jessica Peters, two employees at Mountain Lake Services, an organization that supports people with developmental disabilities in Piestrzynski's hometown of Lake Placid, organized a club to hike the 46 peaks of the Adirondack Mountains known as the High Peaks.
"I wanted to show that people with developmental disabilities could achieve something like this," Charles told Adirondack Life magazine in 2015. "There's more [for them to do] than just, like, bowling."
Mountain Lake Services supports more than 200 people in New York's Essex County, including those diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Piestrzynski, who has autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, lives in a supervised home in Lake Placid, where he works in the laundry room at Golden Arrow Resort, plays tennis on Sundays and has abundant access to his favorite sports of downhill, cross-country and backcountry skiing.
"I grew up skiing," Piestrzynski said. "I love to ski." If skiing's not in his blood, it is, at least, at the end of his last name.
Before joining the MLS High Peakers club, Piestrzynski was already fond of the outdoors, but after several months of training hikes and lessons in safety and mountain preparedness, he was ready to attempt to become a "46er." In February 2011, Piestrzynski and the four other members of the club, including Charles and Peters, summited their first two peaks, Cascade and Porter, in the same day.
"We had two other hikers, but they quit on me after four or five mountains," said Piestrzynski, the only member of the club aside from Charles and Peters who completed the challenge. In late 2015, after just 4½ years, he became the 8,576th person to scale all of the High Peaks and register as a "46er."
"It's a distinguished designation," White said. "And he did it pretty quickly. People can take decades to get there. I've hiked most of the 46, so I know how hard they are. When I heard John had done that, I was really impressed."
To Piestrzynski, though, the challenge was simply "something to do." And by the time he stood at the 4,865-foot summit of Whiteface Mountain, his final climb, he was already dreaming of his next challenge: competing in cross-country skiing at the World Winter Games in Austria.
He began working out three days a week at his local gym and lost nearly 25 pounds training to qualify for the Games. In mid-2016, he learned the hard work had paid off and he had been selected as one of 19 cross-country skiers who would represent the United States in Austria. "I was happy," he said of learning he'd made the team. "I was honored."
For the next several months, he continued to work out and train and readied himself for his first trip to Europe. On Tuesday, Piestrzynski raced in his first event at the World Games and won a silver medal in the 1K freestyle. He and his teammates didn't medal in the 4x1K relay, although you wouldn't have known by their reactions.
"My friends at home will be happy," he said. "I did great. I'm proud of myself."
Piestrzynski still has one race remaining, Friday's 500-meter freestyle. Then he'll return to New York to continue his latest pursuit: hiking the six peaks in the Saranac Lake region of the Adirondacks and becoming a Saranac Lake "6er." Most people start by becoming a "6er" before tackling the 46. But Piestrzynski isn't most people.
"I don't know what I'll do after that," he said, already champing at the bit to set his next goal.