Now that we’re well into the new year, it’s time for Special Olympics Wisconsin to turn its eyes toward the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, Washington. And this year’s USA Games are extra special because we’re also celebrating Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary this year!
After successful campaigns at regional and state tournaments, late last year 49 SOWI athletes and five Unified partners received the exciting news that they had been selected to represent Team Wisconsin in Seattle.
The USA Games will take place in Seattle July 1-6, 2018. More than 4,000 athletes and coaches representing 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with 10,000 volunteers and even more spectators will make their way to Washington state to participate in the biggest sporting event to hit the area in over decades. Events in 14 team and individual sports will take place at some amazing locations, including the University of Washington, Angle Lake, and more.
SOWI will be participating in six sports: athletics (track and field), aquatics, basketball, bocce, bowling and Unified soccer.
Eight athletes will make up Team Wisconsin’s athletics squad. Lora Behr of the Sheboygan Adult Program is one of them. She’s been a SOWI athlete for eight years and this is her first trip to the USA Games. “I felt excited and happy about being selected to attend the Games,” Behr said.
Accordingly, she’s taking the Games very seriously and has been training hard for her competitions. “I have been training by competing on the basketball team and helping with basketball skills and attending a walking program that my agency offers once a week,” Behr said.
In aquatics, Team Wisconsin will be represented by eight athletes as well. It’s a very experienced squad with the likes of Joshua Gorecki of the YMCA at Pabst Farms. He’s been a SOWI swimmer for more than 20 years. Despite his experience, he is still over the moon about heading to Seattle. “I feel so good and excited and proud. I have been working so hard in swimming,” Gorecki said.
Like Behr, Gorecki has been upping his fitness game and using cross training to prepare for the summer. “Since finding out I am going to Seattle for the USA Games, I have been swimming three times per week and going to other exercise classes. I also stay active in basketball and bowling to stay in shape,” Gorecki said.
Gorecki is very health conscious, which bodes well for him in Seattle. And he will need to be at the top of his game with the ambitious goals he has. “I like to stay healthy with exercise to keep my body healthy. My goal is to reach 100 medals. I have 62 medals right now,” Gorecki said.
In basketball Team Wisconsin has a nice mix of veterans and youth on the team of 10. Craig Becker of North Suburban has been in SOWI for more than three decades and has played in the World Games while Chris Jones of Neenah is still in high school and heading to his first competition beyond the state level. But don’t let his youth fool you: Jones will be prepared. “I play basketball at the YMCA almost every day that we don’t have basketball practice. I also am counting my steps every day and my goal is to get over 10,000 a day. I am accomplishing this goal currently,” Jones said.
Eight SOWI athletes will be heading to Seattle in bocce. Becker’s agency mate, Timothy Vola is getting to go in his favorite sport. And he has a great outlook on things that will serve him very well in Seattle. “I love making new friends and enjoy friendly competition,” Vola said. “It’s (Special Olympics) a great way to meet new people and it helps get rid of stigma against people with intellectual disabilities.”
Team Wisconsin’s bowling squad will be eight people deep. Brooklyn Kolff of Janesville Area Special Olympics is thrilled to take part in her first nationals. “I felt excited (upon making the team) and cried I was so happy,” Kolff said.
Miranda Relich is one of the SOWI athletes who will be representing Team Wisconsin in Unified soccer along with six other athletes and five Unified partners. Her endurance will surely be an asset on the field as she is a half-marathon runner. She has run the Bellin Women’s Half Marathon the past three years with her mom and this year she finished in an impressive 2 hours and 28 minutes. Although already an elite runner, like all of her fellow Team Wisconsin athletes, Relich has been training seriously for the USA Games. She’s been walking, running, lifting weights and playing basketball. But it’s all in preparation for the thing that excites her most about the USA Games. “Playing soccer for a week straight!” Relich said.
Whether it’s playing soccer, bocce, or basketball, these athletes will get a whole lot of game time during the week of the USA Games. But the memories to last a lifetime will also happen off the field – on the University of Washington campus, all around Seattle, during the travel there and back, and right now even. Even in the preparation for the USA Games, unforgettable memories are being created with every training session, fundraiser, and team practice. Let’s go Team Wisconsin!