With Wisconsin being Wisconsin and all, it’s been a little difficult for Special Olympics athlete Ryon Knodl and his unified golf partner, Ken Kuemmerlein, to get a lot of practice in lately for the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi that begin in two weeks.
But despite the winter, both have made efforts to make sure they’re in top form when they start playing and start representing the United States as members of the Special Olympics USA team. “I’ve been doing indoor golf ranges and lessons. I had USA grips added to my clubs. I’ve also been doing 10 hours of karate weekly to keep my core strong,” Knodl said.
Kuemmerlein has similarly been taking lessons at his local Golf Galaxy. He’s also been training for what happens off the golf course during his upcoming adventure. He’s been taking time to learn some basic Arabic and read up on the history and culture of a region that he’s never visited. “The competition is really important but learning about a different culture is really exciting,” Kuemmerlein said. “And doing it through the lens of Special Olympics is a really unique opportunity to do that.”
Knodl is excited about the cultural exchange opportunities as well. When asked what he was most looking forward to, Knodl replied: “Seeing my teammates that I met in Delaware at training camp.
Having fun with my teammates. Meeting lots of people from other countries. Hopefully getting a medal.”
And will he ever get to meet people from other countries. Over 7,500 athletes, from more than 170 countries will compete in 24 different sports. The games will be the largest humanitarian sporting even in all of 2019. And while the Special Olympics World Games occurs every four years, there is a great deal of excitement around the fact that this will be the first time it will be held in the Middle East North Africa region.
Bringing people together over sports and friendship on such a scale is just one of the things that makes Special Olympics mean so much to athletes like Knodl. “I became more social with Special Olympics. I have met new people and have more friends,” Knodl said. “I get to do a lot more sports. I also get to go to a lot of new places.”
One of the many friends he’s made through Special Olympics is, of course, Kuemmerlein. The unified pair have know each other for six years now, with Kuemmerlein spending the last four years as Knodl’s basketball coach at West Allis Special Olympics. Their friendship and laid-back styles complement each other well on the golf course and off. “He’s nice and treats me like he treats everyone else.
I feel more comfortable with him through this whole experience,” Knodl said.
“He doesn’t talk a lot and I talk too much,” Kuemmerlein joked. “Part of the reason we work is Ryon doesn’t care how good I am. He just wants to get out and play. He’s super easy going.”
This easy-going friendship will serve the pair well in Abu Dhabi, where so much of the experience will be about more than getting medals. “I always thought the opening ceremony of the Olympics and seeing the athletes walk into the stadium representing their country was so cool. I never thought in a million years I’d have an opportunity like that,” Kuemmerlein said. “To get to do that and see the joy on the faces of athletes is remarkable.”
Whether walking into the stadium for the opening ceremony or walking the golf courses of Abu Dhabi in competition, Kuemmerlein and Knodl can count on one thing: each other. “I like that I am not alone. Ken helps me when I struggle. We stay together on the course,” Knodl said.