The 2022 Special Olympic USA Games will run from June 5 through 12 at various Orlando locations.
Although 2020 and 2021 brought some unexpected surprises and hard times through the Coronavirus pandemic, West Orange residents already have something to look forward to in 2022.
This summer, Orlando will host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, which occur every four years, with several notable athletes competing from the West Orange area.
Laurie Chmielewski, Winter Garden resident and Special Olympics Orange County training director, said the local athletes amaze her.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are no modified rules in Special Olympics,” said Chmielewski, who has been volunteering with the Special Olympics for 38 years. “It’s sports, so if you run track, you stay in your lane. If you leave your lane, you’re disqualified. If you have five fouls in basketball, you’re fouled out of the game. It’s regular sports, and our athletes are more than capable at excelling at these things.”
The 2022 Special Olympics USA Games will unite more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states, and the Caribbean, and 125,000 spectators during one of the country’s most cherished sporting events.
For Special Olympics athletes, one of those reasons is the love of sport. Special Olympics athletes display remarkable abilities not only on the field, but in all areas of life.
By celebrating the athlete’s dedication and perseverance, the Special Olympics USA Games aims to lead the pathway for a more inclusive world.
“Everybody is celebrated — no matter how you finish or where you are at and that’s one of the things that makes this program so special,” Chmielewski said.
Some local athletes are helping lead the way.
Weight: 185 pounds
West Orange residents Calvin Sanders has been involved with Special Olympics for 10 years. He was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.
“Calvin isn’t a quitter,” Angel Sanders, Calvin’s mom, said. “Every sport he is involved in gets his 100% effort. He loves showing off his athleticism.”
Although Calvin originally started in track in elementary school, he has gone on to excel in a variety of different sports, including powerlifting, swimming, bowling and flag football.
He has loved all of them.
Angel said Special Olympics has helped Calvin stay healthy, build confidence and make friends.
Calvin will be competing in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games with his basketball team, Renegades Unified Basketball.
Karol Young, a Special Olympics coach for 12 years and West Orange High School teacher, said the Renegades team has more than 100 athletes ranging from in age from 8 to late 50s.
Throughout the year, athletes can compete in a plethora of seasonal sports through the team.
The team includes Calvin and his other two triplets: Ashton and Bryce.
“I got involved with Special Olympics because of my brother who has special needs and because I love helping others with special needs,” Ashton said.
Ashton and Bryce have been playing basketball as a part of Special Olympics for seven years.
The boys compete with Calvin as Unified Sports Partners.
Special Olympics Unified Sports combines people with and without intellectual disabilities on sports teams for training and competition. The program increases inclusion in the community and uses sports to help break down barriers.
“I like getting to help Calvin learn the sport while also spending time with him,” Bryce said.
Calvin said he practices each week at his school, West Orange High School, and at home with his brothers.
“I hope I can help my team win gold medals,” Calvin said. “My goal is to score a lot of points.”
Angel said being in the games has been a dream come true for their family.
“Calvin has proven time and time again that there are no boundaries when it comes to his abilities,” Angel said. “Now he gets to showcase those abilities to the world.”
Weight: 141 pounds
Hudson “Huddy” Adams-Farley, who attends Legacy High School, has been involved with Special Olympics since the beginning of middle school.
He has competed in flag football, football, basketball and soccer.
Huddy’s mother, Renee Adams, said he has had a natural passion and love for sports since he was a child. He talks sports all day long and can name statistics and players from a variety of sports.
“I love playing and watching sports and they keep me more entertained than other stuff,” Huddy said.
Huddy started playing volleyball about five years ago but didn’t get serious about it until this last year.
“I like that size doesn’t matter in volleyball, because when I played football, it did matter, and there was nothing I could do about it,” Huddy said. “I didn’t want to hurt people or get hurt.”
Huddy said an anime called “Haikyu!!” inspired him to first get involved more with volleyball. The anime follows Shōyō Hinata, a boy determined to become a great volleyball player despite his small stature.
“It’s inspiring because even though he is short he is playing tall people and learning how to play the game, and become better,” he said. “It was teaching me.”
Huddy’s father, Jeffrey Farley, said he is inspired by his son’s dedication.
“When he decides to do something, he is completely all in, and he commits himself to what he is doing,” Jeffrey said.
Renee said even though Huddy has Asperger’s, he really isn’t that different.
“A lot of people don’t recognize that he is even on the spectrum which makes things easier but also more difficult at times,” Renee said. “He inspires everybody with his passions.”
Jeffrey said his son is also a great teammate and is the biggest cheerleader for his fellow players.
Huddy’s team comprises of six athletes and six partners.
“We were all so excited when we found out we were going to the games and we were jumping in the air and yelling,” Huddy said.
Huddy is currently continuing to practice and hopes to improve for the games.
Weight: 107 pounds
Hali Luebke attends Horizon High School and has been with Chmielewski as part of Special Olympics since she was 8 years old.
Her mother, Rumi, first got her involved in the Young Athletes program to give her the ability to participate in team sports, stay active and make friends.
Although her mother died unexpectedly in 2017, Hali doesn’t let that or her autism stop her from competing in an array of sports, including basketball, track and field, and golf.
She will be heading to the games for swimming, which she said is one of her favorite sports.
The young athlete found out she was heading to the games in a Zoom video announced by legendary swimming icon Rowdy Gaines.
As an individual athlete, Hali competes in both freestyle and backstroke. She currently is working on her side breathing and taking lessons to improve.
“Swimming is a full body workout, so it’s good for Hali’s health, but also she just loves being in the water,” said Hali’s dad, Scott Luebke.
Hali practices at the Rosen Aquatic Center with a free membership given to all Special Olympic athletes, regardless of participation in the USA games.
Scott said although Hali is relaxed in practice, she loves to compete.
“We love Special Olympics, and we also love the constant teaching of sportsmanship and the innocence of the athletes who congratulate each other no matter the outcome of the game,” Scott said.
Hali said she loves to eat healthy and is excited to be a part of the USA games, where she will stay at a Disney resort with other athletes and their families.
Weight: 245 pounds
Matthew Letcher has spent 19 years in the Special Olympics program — not only as athlete but also as a coach.
Matthew is a member of Athlete Leadership as an Athlete Coach and helps to coach basketball.
Throughout his time with Special Olympics, he also has competed in flag football, and track and field.
“(Because) we couldn’t do regular sports with regular kids, this was an alternative,” Matthew said.
Now, Matthew will be heading to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games as part of the same basketball team as the Sander’s triplets.
“I enjoy running up and down the court and being very vocal with my team and it helps to bring out my leadership,” Matthew said.
Matthew said before the games he is looking to get better overall by picking up new things, practicing his shooting and learning more about the game.
Weight: 172 pounds
Ryan Letcher has been a part of the Special Olympics for 18 years.
He first got involved to meet other people and to compete.
Ryan has participated in track and field, bocce, swimming, flag football and basketball.
Now, Ryan will be heading to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games to compete individually in swimming. He will be swimming freestyle and backstroke.
Ryan said before the games he is looking to pick up his speed and get better with his dives.
Lisa Landsberger, Matthew and Ryan’s mother, said Special Olympics allows the boys to branch out, meet new people and travel to new places.
“Special Olympics has given the boys an outlet to do things that they didn’t think they would be able to do and helps to keep them busy and active,” she said.
The family is also very active in volunteering for the Special Olympics program.
Through the Torch Icon Campaign at Publix, where the brothers currently work at in Horizon West, Publix associates, customers and local communities come together in an effort to support thousands of Special Olympics athletes and their families through a fundraiser.
Beginning Jan. 5 and running through Jan. 16, customers who visit their local Publix can help support their state athletes with a donation which can be made at the register during check-out for as little as $1 or a specific desired amount.
“Their (Matthew and Ryan’s) hard work and commitment just makes me so proud,” Landsberger said. “They’re so talented and have really good skills, and practice ethic.”
THE 2022 GAMES
The 2022 Special Olympic USA Games will run from June 5 through 12 at various Orlando locations, including Disney’s Coronado Springs, Exploria Stadium, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, and the Rosen Aquatic Center.
Special Olympics also hosts the Healthy Athletes program.
Orlando Health is the 2022 USA Games Official Healthcare Partner and the Presenting Sponsor of the USA Games Healthy Athlete Experience.
Locals have the opportunity to get involved in the games from their home city.
Residents can be a part of history by volunteering for one of the many roles needed to bring the games to life, become part of the 2022 donation club, or even join the “Fans in the Stands” group.
Those who wish to donate or learn more information on the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, can visit 2022specialolympicsusagames.org.
The 2023 Special Olympic World Games will take place in Berlin.
“I love our athletes; they’re awesome, and they get so excited about our competitions,” Young said. “They love participating where they win or lose, although don’t get me wrong they love to win. The program is so much fun and we are lucky to have such a loving and supportive community.”
ABOUT SPECIAL OLYMPICS
Special Olympics is “a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability,” according to the Special Olympics website.
Each athlete has an equal opportunity to compete and earn awards through the process of division, where athletes are sorted by gender, age and ability.
The free program is helping to make the world a better, healthier and more joyful place, one athlete, one volunteer, and one family member at a time.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, was a pioneer in the worldwide struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities.
Shriver believed if people with intellectual disabilities were given the same opportunities and experiences as everyone else, they could accomplish far more than anyone ever thought possible.
In 1962, Shriver proved her belief by inviting young people with intellectual disabilities to a summer day camp she hosted in her backyard called "Camp Shriver."
The goal of the camp was to explore the children's skills in a variety of sports and physical activities.
In July 1968, Shriver held the first International Special Olympics Games were in Chicago, Illinois.
Now, the Special Olympics is home to over 5,000,000 athletes in 200 countries and jurisdictions.
“I can see the potential in every athlete and I can see their pure enjoyment of sport and their own accomplishment and that inspires me in what I do every day,” Chmielewski said.
This year’s games, presented by Jersey Mike’s Subs, will host a lineup of celebrities and athletes, also known as USA Games ambassadors.
The impressive roster touts seven Hall of Famers, 14 Olympic medal winners and sports heroes, entertainment leaders and more.
Some of the participating ambassadors are Mark Cuban, Charli D’Amelio, Ellen DeGeneres, Dan Marino, Matthew McConaughey and Dara Torres.
Organizations such as Disney, ESPN, Coca-Cola, Orlando Health, Publix, WWE and many more are also involved as partners.
“Sports is a common playing ground and it brings people from across the world together to celebrate the incredible athletes we have,” Chmielewski said.
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