Team Kentucky Captured 32 Medals in Orlando
Team Kentucky’s trip to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Fla., was an eventful one filled with history, drama, determination and all kinds of extra fun at the House of Mouse.
The Games, which ran from June 5-June 11, opened in historic fashion for Team Kentucky. The first ever Unified team that Kentucky has ever sent to the USA Games was among the first Kentucky athletes to open competition on Monday, June 6. Athlete Corey Pitsenberger scored the first USA Games Unified basketball point for Kentucky on a free throw in the first quarter. There was also drama on Day 1 with bocce athlete Torrey Thompson erasing a 9-0 deficit against Nebraska’s Jeffrey Wrich to tie his opening match. While Wrich was able to save the match with a point in the sudden death end, Thompson’s comeback in addition to a convincing win in his second match put Thompson into the bronze medal round on Day 2.
Thompson won that bronze medal with a 12-3 win over Louisiana’s Dan Johnson. Later in the week, Thompson teamed with Mark McKinney t to win a silver medal in the Unified doubles event, making him one of seven Kentucky athletes to medal in every event in which they were entered at the Games.
Joining Thompson in that feat were bowlers Dallas Derringer, Brianna Goode and Levi Oney, swimmer Maddie Brinkman and gymnasts Lee Dockins and Aliya White.
The Bowlers got off to an incredible start this year, winning three medals and claiming one fourth-place finish in the singles event on their first day of competition. Goode and Oney both won gold medals in their divisions, Oney with a 356 series and Goode with a 190 that included a game of 85 which was one off her personal best. Derringer rolled an incredible 499 series to win silver. Casey Freeman placed fourth in her division with a 340 series, just 22 pins out of the bronze medal. Freeman got into the medal count in the doubles event, claiming gold along with Goode. Derringer and Oney also teamed up to win doubles gold. All four Kentucky bowlers completed competition in the team event grabbing a bronze medal with a 1,286 total series.
Brinkman led another strong Kentucky swimming contingent at these Games as the only swimmer to medal in both of her individual events. Brinkman became the last Kentucky athlete to claim an individual gold medal at the Games when she touched in a personal best :40.400 to beat Anna Reagle of Connecticut by 1.95 seconds in the 50-yard backstroke on the final day of competition. The gold came after Brinkman had already won a bronze medal in the 50-yard freestyle. Austin Stine joined Brinkman in winning individual gold in the pool. Stine also won his division of the 50-yard freestyle in a time of :58.370. Justin Hale and Megan McCormick each claimed one individual medal, Hale a bronze in the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 2:32.590 and McCormick a silver in the 100-yard butterfly swimming a time of 1:49.440.
Every Kentucky swimmer did leave Orlando with a gold medal though as the team took the top spot on the podium in the4x50-yard medley relay, finishing in 3:18.730 which was less than two seconds ahead of the silver medalists from Colorado.
Hale, McCormick and Stine also turned in personal best times in non-medal winning performances. On the last day of competition, Stine smashed his personal record in the 100-yard freestyle by six seconds. He finished in 2:04.56 to take fifth. Hale took fourth in the 200-yard individual medley with a PR time of 2:46.930. And McCormick blew through the 200-yard freestyle in 3:25.200, also placing fourth.
Gymnasts have long led the way to the medal stand for Team Kentucky at the USA Games and 2022 was no different with our three gymnasts claiming 13 total medals. USA Games veterans Lee Dockins and Aliya White claimed five medals each. Both won gold in their divisions of the all-around. Dockins added gold in the floor exercise and uneven bars and silver in the balance beam and vault. White took gold in beam and bars, silver in the floor exercise and bronze in the vault. White’s silver medal came despite an incredible score of 19.1 (out of 20) on the floor.
And while the two veterans swept their medals, one of the most impressive performances may have come from USA Games first-timer Racheal Connor. On her very first day of competition Connor showed no nerves and took gold in her all-around division with a score of 70.0. She added a gold in the bars and a silver in vault – again with an incredible 19.362, as well as fourth place finishes in the beam and floor exercise.
Team Kentucky’s track contingent opened AND closed competition in dramatic fashion. Caitlin Roy, the only USA Games veteran among Kentucky’s track delegation, was the first to have an opportunity at a medal in Orlando. But it came in the 400 meters which was the only one of her events that Roy hadn’t medaled in at the 2018 Games in Seattle. The 400 isn’t Roy’s best race and she only ran it in Seattle because Team Kentucky didn’t field a relay team in those Games (athletes are allowed three events). But she was determined to earn the medal she missed there and selected the race over her more natural 100 meters. At first it looked like the 400 meter medal may again evade her as Roy struggled with the Orlando heat in her preliminary race, struggling to the finish line in 1:52.554. The next day in the final, Roy got off to a good start but seemed to falter again in the final turn, but an incredible final 30 meters pulled her from fifth to a silver medal, giving her the prize she came to Orlando seeking.
On the last day of competition, the Team Kentucky 4×100-meter relay team got a good start from Michaela Hutchinson, a strong second leg to put them into second place by Roy, a lightning-fast 13.8 second third leg by Kevin Rates and then Trevor Yates rolled across the finish line to give Team Kentucky its only track gold medal of the Games. Yates crossed the line just .9 seconds ahead of South Dakota’s anchor runner. The race also provided one of the great medal presentations in Team Kentucky history:
— Special Olympics KY (@sokentucky) June 11, 2022
In addition to Roy’s individual medal, Michaela Hickerson – Team Kentucky’s youngest athlete – grabbed a silver medal in her heat of the 200 meters and Kevin Rates added a silver in the shot put. Roy added a sixth-place finish in her division of the 200. Rates placed fifth in his division of the long jump. Hickerson added a fifth in the 100 meters. Trevor Yates, who carried the baton across the line for Kentucky in that epic relay, wasn’t really a sprinter at all. Yates competed in both the 1500- and 3000-meter runs, both of which he ran immediately after relay heats. Yates ran great races in both finishing the 1500 in 6:09.532 and the 3000 in a personal best 15:03.808, taking sixth and fourth place, respectively.
Both Team Kentucky golf pairs found their way to the medal table with both claiming silver medals. Bryan Cheely and his brother and Unified partner Kevin grabbed silver in their first USA Games playing in the second flight of the 9-hole Unified Alternate Shot event. They fired a low round of 47 in round 2 on their way to a four-round score of 215. Wake Mullins and Unified partner Dennis Gaines improved on the bronze they won at the 2018 USA Games with a silver the second flight of the 18-hole Unified Alternate Shot event. Mullins and Gains also posted their best round in round 2 with an 82 on their way to a 249 total. They finished just two shots out of the gold.
After their historic start, it was a tough Games for the Unified basketball team. Two key players – including Pitsenberger – were injured in that first game and missed much of the Tournament. They did notch the first Unified basketball win for Kentucky on their second day with a 35-33 thriller over Texas. They played hard throughout the Tournament and never lost the incredible attitude they brought with them to Orlando, finishing in fourth place in their division.
The Marshall County-based flag football team opened the Games with a heartbreaking 26-24 loss to Maryland on the first day of competition. Team Kentucky had an opportunity to tie the game late but weren’t able to complete a 2-point conversion to send the game into overtime. After a tough game against the District of Columbia, Team Kentucky notched its first win of the Tournament with a 35-12 victory over Texas. They made a good run at Illinois before falling in their division semi-finals on their way to a fourth-place finish.
Bocce athletes Amy Butler and Kym Dickamore each finished fifth in their divisions of the singles bocce event before teaming up for a fourth-place finish in the traditional doubles event.
There were also plenty of great experiences for the athletes outside of competition. Most Team Kentucky athletes had the opportunity to visit the Healthy Athletes center to receive various health screenings and all were able to request a free pair of shoes. Following the Opening Ceremonies, all of the USA Games athletes were treated to an exhibition by the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. Gymnast Aliya White was selected as one of the athletes to learn one of the Globetrotters’ tricks and participate in their famed Magic Circle. On the Thursday night of the Games the Animal Kingdom park at Walt Disney World was closed to the public for a private evening experience for athletes, coaches and families, complete with free food and drinks (and Mickey Bars). And every athlete had the opportunity to explore the Magic Kingdom one day. Our flag football team ended up as honored guests with special seating during the afternoon Magic Kingdom parade.
Thank you to everyone who supported Team Kentucky along the way and who cheered us on either in Orlando or from home. We couldn’t have done it without you!