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South grad reflects on experience at Special Olympics World Games
Brooke Hasfjord earned a fourth-place medal during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. - photo by For the FCN

SOUTH FORSYTH — One Special Olympics athlete from Forsyth County experienced an opportunity of a lifetime by competing in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. And she didn’t just participate — she competed and became fourth in the world.

Brooke Hasfjord, 19, missed the bronze medal by less than a second, according to her mother, Kirsten. She also came in fourth with her 4-by-50-meter relay team and placed eighth in the 50-meter freestyle.

And that wasn’t even her favorite part of the trip.

“I met Michael Phelps at the pool,” she said.

The decorated Olympic swimmer attended for a charity that teaches kids how to swim and walked with the USA team during the opening ceremonies, her mother said.

“I asked him what was your inspiration for swimming when you were little,” Hasfjord said. “He said he just liked swimming a lot.”

She was also interviewed by ESPN, which she said was fun.

The Games ran from July 25-Aug. 2. That gave her plenty of time to explore the city.

She flew into San Diego a week early to spend time practicing and touring. She was in a parade there and went out in a boat before settling into the dorms at the University of Southern California.

Hasfjord graduated from South Forsyth High School this spring. At a younger age she was diagnosed with mitochondrial complex I deficiency, an untreatable muscle disease that makes aerobic, or cardio, exercise difficult because her body cannot produce a typical amount of energy.

She joined six other athletes from Georgia for the World Games, which was expected to attract 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 177 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators.

“The whole tone and tenor of the whole thing,” said her father, Joel Hasfjord, who flew out with Kirsten to see their daughter compete, “was an interesting statement they made that so-called normal people tend to look at the world and look at how broken things are, but people with disabilities tend to look at things with a different set of eyes and how great things are.

“The whole focus was they’ve already gotten over one of the largest hurdles by being here.”

Brooke Hasfjord got to trade pins with athletes from other countries, including China, Denmark, Mexico, Senegal and Sweden.

“She was really just so sad to come home and misses everybody already,” Kirsten Hasfjord said.

To help welcome her home, Special Olympics of Forsyth County held a swim party Friday at the Cumming Aquatic Center.

“[In L.A.] we exchanged stories with other people. And when you’re with the parents or guardians of another disabled athlete, it’s like a normal crowd,” Joel Hasfjord said. “You’re sitting there with people and you don’t have to start the conversation off with why things are different. It’s a level playing field. You can move right on to other conversations.

“You’re cheering and doing things that are cool and part of the event, but it didn’t matter if it was your country because you’re cheering for the athletes to do their best. It’s very different than the Olympic experience or even a football game where you’re cheering for your school or your team and things might even get negative. The Special Olympics is not about that. It’s about overcoming.”