Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Ky. athletes off to Special Olympics

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - For the next two weeks, athletes from across the state will compete in the Special Olympics World Games in Ireland.

Thirteen athletes representing the Kentucky delegation of Team USA and their coaches left Louisville International Airport Sunday for Dublin, Ireland. The athletes will compete in various events, including artistic gymnastics, swimming and golf, said Mark Buerger, a spokesman for Special Olympics Kentucky.

Buerger said the athletes qualified for the World Games at recent state competitions and then were randomly selected to attend.

Team USA will join more than 7,000 athletes from 160 countries for the competition, which is in its 11th year. The games, which run through June 29, will be the largest sporting event in the world this year, said Dave Kerchner, president of Special Olympics Kentucky.

Special Olympics is an international program of year-around athletic training and competitions for mentally retarded children and adults. The Kentucky delegation will join others in Orlando, Fla., before going to Ireland on Friday.

Alecia Ward of Nicholasville, whose daughter, Lynsey, 15, will be competing in golf, said that although it's hard to see her daughter leave, she knows the experience will be priceless. This is Lynsey's first trip out of the country.

"She's been hitting a golf ball since she was 3; her favorite thing to do is hit golf balls into the swimming pool," Ward said.

Officials with Special Olympics Kentucky held a ceremony at the airport before the team left. Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson sent the athletes a letter and declared June 15 Special Olympics Kentucky World Games Athlete Day.

Dominique Diezi, assistant swimming coach at the University of Louisville, spoke to the team about her experience as a competitor at the 1996 Olympics. Diezi said she didn't win a medal but met many new people.

"That's the best thing that could've happened to me," Diezi said. "You'll remember that more than being fifth, first or 31st."

Five coaches from the state will accompany the delegation.

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