Four athletes and coaches from Forsyth County will represent Team USA at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the United Arab Emirates on March 14-21.
Locals Garrett Ardizone and his unified partner, Wayne Hancock, will participate in the games as a unified table tennis team, while Mark Keesee and Karen Cimo will serve as head coaches of the powerlifting and table tennis teams, respectively.
“I just think it’s just an experience of a lifetime for all of us,” Cimo said. “I mean, this will be the first time that the United States will be there representing for unified partners in table tennis. We’ve never played doubles before, so that’s pretty exciting and just to be able to go to that country and learn their cultures is going to be an experience in itself.”
The competition will feature more than 7,000 athletes from 170 countries playing 24 different sports and will be held across the UAE, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“So we’re all very excited. We’re just going to go out there and do your best and have fun,” Cimo said.
While this is the first time attending the World Games for the other participants, that’s not the case for Keesee, who said this will be his fourth time going after previous events in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Greece, where a Forsyth County lifter came home with a bronze medal.
“I’m a little apprehensive about it, but it’s going to be exciting because this is the first time Special Olympics USA has been to the Middle East for the World Games,” Keesee said. “So it’s exciting to be going there. It’s something new. I’ve just heard so much about Abu Dhabi and Dubai and that area so it’s going to be exciting to go there.”
Keesee said Team USA will be made up of about 320 athletes, coaches and chaperones from across the country and said the event was expected to be the largest sporting event of the year.
Ardizone, who has competed in Special Olympics locally for about 15 years, previously told Forsyth County News he is looking forward to the games and 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, who first met Ardizone when serving as his basketball coach, 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.”
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.
“I’m pumped,” Ardizone said. “I am ready.”