A Forsyth County team is taking their talents to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as part of Team USA for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games on March 14-21.
Garrett Ardizone, who has competed in Special Olympics locally for about 15 years, and his unified partner, Wayne Hancock, are looking forward to representing the red, white and blue. Ardizone said it was “quite a shock” to learn they were going to play overseas.
“I’m just looking for a great time and basically being all around different people and working on my social skills,” Ardizone said. “And most of all, just looking for a fun time.”
Hancock said not only was it exciting to make the tournament, it was history-making.
“It’s a big deal,” Hancock said. “We’re the first team for Team USA that’s going to play in the World Games in unified doubles table tennis.”
Hancock said there is a lot to look forward to with the competition, most importantly representing his country.
“It’s a big deal to part of Team USA, so we’re excited about that,” Hancock said. “The cultural differences are a lot to grasp right now, and we’re going halfway around the world, which is pretty exciting. We’re two of a delegation of about 225 athletes going to World Games in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s the first time the World Games are being held in the Middle East, so that’s a big deal.”
Ardizone said he has played singles table tennis since high school but wanted to try something different in doubles.
“Wayne had told me, he goes, ‘You want to be my unified partner? And I’m like, ‘yeah, sure,’” Ardizone said. “So we set up where we could do that and played doubles down at Emory, and we won it all.”
Also a competitor in basketball, softball and other net sports, like pickleball and tennis, Ardizone said, “anything with a ball, I can do it.”
Hancock said the experience would be great in terms of meeting other athletes and experiencing another part of the world, including doing some sight-seeing and trying some local foods.
“It will be a crazy time. I think there’s going to be a lot going on,” he said. “Being able to interact with other teams from around the world. Many, many countries, thousands of athletes compete at different sports.”
The team is also looking forward to facing some of the world’s best competition.
“Maybe we’ll show up, do well and come back a gold medalist,” Hancock said. “We’re likely to play against teams from Germany, China, who knows.”
Ardizone said he met Hancock when he was Ardizone’s basketball coach, and Hancock said despite his coaching this was the first time he would be competing in table tennis.
To get ready, the team has been training with a private trainer in Johns Creek on Fridays and practice against each other at Forsyth County’s Central Park on Mondays.
With all that practice, Ardizone made the bold claim that they were coming home with a medal.
The competition will feature more than 7,000 athletes from 170 countries playing 24 different sports and will be held across the UAE.
“I’m pumped,” Ardizone said. “I am ready.”