FLUSHING – Last week, they were just a small group of folks getting together in a cozy restaurant in downtown Flushing.
But in four months, the 17 athletes and coaches representing Special Olympics Michigan will be part of a much larger gathering when the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games take place July 25-Aug. 2 in Los Angeles.
More than 7,000 athletes from 177 nations will compete in 25 Olympictype sports, marking the 14th Special Olympics World Summer Games. With an anticipated 30,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators, the Games will be the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015, and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games.
Representing Michigan will be a men’s volleyball team from the Flint area, power-lifter Benjamin Bednarz of Canton and cycling coach David Pruder of Bay City. The volleyball team consists of 12 players ranging in age from 15 to 42: Alex Norris of Burton, Drew Callahan and Nicholas Hutchinson of Clio, Stephen Miller of Flushing, and Eric Gloster, Joseph Gross, Dalvin Keller, Kevin Metcalf- Gates, John Myers, Bret Rife, Michael Robinson and Dan Sabedra of Flint. Sheila Gafney of Grand Blanc is the head coach, assisted by Cheryl Barnhart of Swartz Creek and Giuseppe Finateri of Grand Blanc.
All were on hand March 24 for a meet-and-greet at Kathy’s Restaurant and Lounge, where athletes and parents learned more details of the trip.
“They’re nervous but they’re very excited,” said Gafney. “They’ll be thousands of miles away from home and mom and dad won’t be right there. They’ll be told what to eat and what to wear. They’re pumped, but they’re nervous.”
To qualify for the trip, the team first had to win a gold medal at last year’s state Summer Games, then be drawn from a pool of 11 gold medal winning teams. As determined by the national office, each state is allowed a certain number of athletes in certain sports. Michigan was permitted one volleyball team and one powerlifter.
“We were lucky,” said Gafney.
The Michigan contingent is part of a 491-member delegation representing the United States. Special Olympics USA will include 304 athletes and 43 Unified Partners competing in 17 sports, 102 volunteer coaches, and 42 volunteer sports and management team members, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The team includes several Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams, where people with and without intellectual disability compete together, as teammates.
Every two years, the world transcends the boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, culture and religion to come together for Special Olympics World Games. Alternating between summer and winter Games, this event is the flagship event of the Special Olympics movement, which promotes equality, tolerance and acceptance through the power and joy of sport. This prominent world stage brings attention to the Special Olympics movement and the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities.
Currently, more than 4.4 million Special Olympics athletes train and compete year-round in 170 nations across the globe.