News

World Games 2019: Meet Team Virginia

Special Olympics USA is proud to announce that it will send a 313-member delegation to represent the United States at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, being held March 14-21, 2019, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Special Olympics USA, is comprised of 216 athletes, 63 coaches and approximately 34 delegation members who support team operations. Team members will compete in 18 of the 24 sports offered: athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football (soccer), golf, gymnastics – artistic, gymnastics—rhythmic, open water swimming, powerlifting, sailing, swimming, table tennis, tennis, triathlon, and volleyball.

Seven athletes will represent Special Olympics Virginia. Meet the team below!

In addition, Ron Manilla will attend as a tennis coach as well as 6 Special Olympics Virginia staff members: Dave Pawlowski, medical team; Ellen Head, sports manager for gymnastics; Katie Botha, communications director for US delegation; Daniel Leake, technical delegate for volleyball; Nancy Morehouse, Unified Sports® delegate; and David Thomason, who'll be assisting with Global Messengers. 

The delegation also includes Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams, where people with and without intellectual disabilities compete together, as teammates. These will be the most inclusive Games to date. Special Olympics USA will have representation in the following Unified Sports: basketball, bocce, golf, sailing, soccer, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball. 

To learn more about the delegation, please visit www.specialolympicsusa.org for a full team listing, photos and bios.

Joey Messaros got involved in Special Olympics five years ago. A multi-sport athlete, he has played basketball and golf and participated in swimming and track & field. In March, though, he'll compete on a world stage in swimming at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. He swims regularly with the Oakton Swim Club, which practices alongside the Oakton High School swim team. Joey is grateful for the opportunities Special Olympics has given him to compete, make new friends, grow personally and just have fun. His favorite Special Olympics moment so far was "when I won my first gold medal for swimming. It was exciting to be swimming in front of a lare, cheering crowd." Outside of Special Olympics, Joey likes to listen to Chuck Berry and Little Richard, work at Ledo's Pizza and play laser tag.
Josh Norris, who will run the half marathon and 10,000m, has been involved in Special Olympics since middle school. He quickly found a love for – and was a natural at – distance running. He ran high school indoor and outdoor track and cross country, lettering in all three. He's completed 8 marathons and numerous half-marathons, consistently finishing in the top 1-5% of runners. In 2015, he was one of nine athletes to run the Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. At the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, he added to his medal collection, taking home silver in the 10,000m and bronze in both the 3000m and 5000m, despite an injury. Josh, also a Global Messenger, loves Special Olympics because "It has encouraged and challenged me to continue my running and to be the best athlete I can be." Outside of Special Olympics, he enjoys video games and movies, and is a dedicated Virginia Tech fan.
Chris Raupp joined Special Olympics in 1990. He has participated in soccer, basketball, tennis and golf. At the 2006 Special Olympics USA Games in Iowa, Chris won silver in tennis singles and gold in mixed doubles. At 2018 USA Games, he took home gold in traditional doubles and silver in Level 5 singles – now he’s looking forward to earning gold on his first world stage. “Special Olympics has given me a chance to compete and do the best I can do,” he said. “It has given me the chance to be part of teams and make new friends.” Aside from tennis, Chris loves playing and watching sports of any kind. He also was just named an Aramark Ring of Star winner, making him one of only 200 Aramark employees to earn this worldwide recognition in 2018.
Grace Anne Braxton has been a Special Olympics golfer and swimmer since 1981. In March at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi, she will focus her energies on the greens after taking home gold in golf high performance singles at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. In 2007 and 2011, she was the top-rated female Special Olympics golfer in the world, and she’s looking for another top spot on the Special Olympics podium in Abu Dhabi. Her favorite Special Olympics moments include competing at World Games in Greece, China and Minnesota, as well as several USA Games. Grace Anne says, "Special Olympics has helped me become an active person in my community. I help out as a volunteer with Basketball Championships and as a volunteer with new local golfers." Outside of Special Olympics, she likes to watch cooking shows, do word search puzzles, and be a cool aunt to her two nephews.
Karen Dickerson has run marathons all over the world – 27 of them and counting in fact. Past destinations on her travel itinerary have included Greece, China, Ireland and Boston, to name just a few. While she has a goal to run a marathon in every state, she's going global for her next adventure. In March, Karen will travel with Special Olympics Virginia to run the half marathon and the 10,000m at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. Training and persistence are the keys to Karen’s success as a runner. She keeps her body in shape by lifting weights and swimming. Several times a week, she laces up her running shoes and joins two local running groups, the DC Road Runners and the Potomac River Runners. When she isn't running with a group it is a common sight for residents in her neighborhood in Springfield to see her pounding the pavement alone, always focused on beating her own best time.
You can't spell inspiration without T-O-R-I. And Tori Martin is nothing short of inspirational. She swam before she could walk. Through swimming, Tori found purpose, routine and stability. Now, she swims, spins, runs and rows for 6+ hours every day. She took home gold in the 100m IM (high-performance) and bronze in the 100m freestyle (high-performance) at 2018 Special Olympics USA Games. Her next goal: earning gold on a world stage in Abu Dhabi. Her favorite part of Special Olympics has been "meeting new people and hanging out with my teammates at events." Besides swimming, Victoria likes to workout with fellow Special Olympics athlete Jerry Holy.
Special Olympics USA swimmer and one-time silver and two-time bronze medalist at Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai? Check. Participant in Special Olympics World Aquatics Invitational in Puerto Rico? Check. Swam across the Potomac River 4 times? Check. Inspiring Athlete Fundraising Coach? Yes, Jenny Mitchell has done that, too! A Special Olympics Virginia athlete for 24 years, Jenny has participated in track, soccer, basketball, triathlon, cross country skiing and swimming. Now she’s training for the world stage in open water swimming. The key to staying on top of her game? Remaining alert and focused – and always celebrating with a smile. "Special Olympics has allowed me to meet people from all over and make friends," she shared. Outside of the water, Jenny enjoys travel, her work, listening to music and the occasional trip to the mall.