2022 USA Games Athlete Highlights

PRESENTED BY

Erik Anderson

Sport: Unified Golf
Hometown: Minnetonka, MN
Age: 49

Erik Anderson has been involved with Special Olympics for over 30 years. He has participated in golf, basketball, alpine skiing, swimming, powerlifting and track. He’s also a leader in the Special Olympics movement and often takes on public speaking roles as a Global Messenger, LETR Ambassador and a Health Messenger.

Special Olympics Minnesota has changed Erik’s life in many ways. Not only has he made lifelong friends and developed a healthier lifestyle, but he has found meaningful employment at the Special Olympics Minnesota state office. Erik currently works part-time as an Administrative Service Associate for Special Olympics Minnesota in downtown Minneapolis.

“I know what it feels like to feel left out. With Special Olympics, I feel like I’m a part of a family and I’m accepted,” says Erik. “I look up to my Special Olympics family because they have never given up on me and they give me energy to succeed. They always encourage me to do my best.”

The 2022 USA Games will be Erik’s second time attending the national competition. In fact, one of his proudest accomplishments to date is going to the very first USA Games in Ames, Iowa in 2006 and winning a gold medal in 9-hole golf.

“Attending USA Games means a lot to me. I look forward to competing with my Unified partner, Darrel, and playing golf against others from across the country.”

Outside of his involvement with Special Olympics Minnesota, Erik enjoys watching movies, attending monster truck rallies, downhill skiing and spending time with his friends, family and cat.

Daniel Boyd

Sport: Powerlifting
Hometown: St. Paul, MN
Age: 35

Dan has been involved with Special Olympics Minnesota for over 15 years. He enjoys participating in softball, poly hockey and basketball, but he’s absolutely thrilled to be attending the 2022 USA Games to compete in his favorite sport: powerlifting.

When he first started powerlifting, deadlifting 200 pounds was a challenge. Today, Dan’s goal is to consistently lift 500 pounds or more when he competes. He works hard toward his goals, and his role models keep him motivated to do his best.

“I admire Eddie Hall and Brian Shaw because I’d like to be as strong as them some day. And my mom. My mom raised me all by herself for years and helped me beat cancer.”

Dan is hitting the gym with his powerlifting coach as often as he can, and he’s looking forward to traveling with Team Minnesota. We can’t wait to watch Dan crush his goals in Orlando!

Mia Camp

Sport: Half-court basketball
Hometown: St. Michael, MN
Age: 21

Mia has been an athlete for over 14 years, beginning her Special Olympics career in Colorado. When she moved to Minnesota in 2012, she got involved with the St. Michael Stallions right away. “It has given me great opportunities to meet new people and to play lots of sports. My team is like family—everyone is kind and caring.” Mia currently participates in bowling, basketball and track and field.

Orlando will be Mia’s second USA Games appearance. She competed in track and field at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle. “I feel honored to be able to participate again. Seattle was such a great experience. I look forward to playing with my team, meeting other athletes and having fun.”

Mia and the rest of the squad will make history as being Team Minnesota’s first ever all-female half court basketball team to attend USA Games! They have already been working hard to stay in shape and practice their basketball skills for the big competition in June 2022.

James Chalmers

Sport: Track & field (athlete coach)
Hometown: Red Wing, MN
Age: 50

James participates in alpine skiing as a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete. However, he has found that his real passion is coaching track and field.

“Coaching has given me greater strength and knowledge about who I am, as well as giving me a great deal of satisfaction seeing athletes develop both physically and socially.”

James has been an athlete coach for Red Wing Special Olympics for over 27 years in bowling, swimming and track. Attending the USA Games will be a first for James, and he’s very excited to be coaching track and field at the national level.

In his free time James is an avid runner, and he loves spending time with his family, taking photos and reading books. He also is involved with Red Wing High School as the volunteer general manager for their sports teams.

Shelby Eisenschenk

Sport: Swimming
Hometown: St. Cloud, MN
Age: 31

Shelby has overcome many obstacles in his 31 years. He is nonverbal and uses a device and adaptive sign language to communicate with others. Before getting involved with Special Olympics, Shelby was socially isolated and had very few friends. But after joining Special Olympics over 22 years ago, his life changed. Today, Shelby lives a vibrant life filled with amazing friendships, a busy schedule and a passion for spreading the word of Special Olympics to his community.

Shelby’s first sports were bowling and swimming, but over the years he has added more and more and now also participates in poly hockey, track, bocce, golf and softball. He also loves to spread the mission of Special Olympics Minnesota as a Global Messenger, Health Messenger and LETR Ambassador.

Shelby really admires Michael Phelps when it comes to swimming, but his biggest inspiration is his mom. She is always there to help him accomplish his goals and cheer him on, and we know she’ll be cheering her loudest at USA Games!

Austin Ewing

Sport: Powerlifting
Hometown: Springfield, MN
Age: 26

Austin Ewing has been involved with Special Olympics Minnesota for about five years. He’s competed in track and field and participated in Leadership University, but his favorite sport in the world is powerlifting.

Growing up, Austin was often bullied and told that he would never accomplish anything. But he found a healthy outlet in powerlifting and a second home in the gym. When he began powerlifting, he found that working out, setting goals and pushing himself harder every day made him feel like he was pushing the mean words people said out of his body and mind.

Through his involvement with Special Olympics, Austin has not only gotten physically stronger, but has gained confidence and become more outgoing, especially when it comes to public speaking. So much so that his mom and younger sisters gave him the nickname “Jib Jabber.” While his list of accomplishments keeps growing, Austin says he’s the most proud of “being a powerlifter, a good son, brother and friend.”

Austin’s biggest inspiration and number one fan is his mom. She’s been supportive of his goals every step of the way and can’t wait to watch him compete in Orlando. “Attending USA Games is a dream come true for Austin. It validates all the hard work and commitment he has been training toward. Austin has big dreams of someday attending World Games and one day hopes to be nominated for an ESPY. He can’t wait to travel and have his family there to cheer him on.”

Brandon Gangl

Sport: Individual Bowling
Hometown: Apple Valley, MN
Age: 32

Brandon Gangl has been a Special Olympics athlete for over 20 years! He has participated in bowling, bocce, soccer, swimming, softball and track, and he loves to help with local fundraisers with his team, The RAVE.

“Special Olympics gives me something to look forward to be involved with. I have made many friends through my Special Olympics teammates, and in fact, I met my current roommate through Special Olympics.”

Brandon will be competing in individual bowling at the 2022 USA Games in June. His dad Paul will also be traveling with Team Minnesota as a bowling coach.

“It was an honor to be selected to represent the state of Minnesota. I think bowling is my favorite Special Olympics sport, so being able to do that and do my best is very exciting.”

“I have never attended one of these before, so I am looking forward to the experience with my dad as a coach and my family as my fans.”

Outside of Special Olympics, Brandon is an Eagle Scout, he loves all Minnesota sports teams, and loves to go to his family’s cabin to fish, bike and hang on the lake.

We’re so excited for Brandon to shine at USA Games!

Park Gilmer

Sport: Swimming
Hometown: Buffalo, MN
Age: 22

Park Gilmer has been an athlete with Special Olympics Minnesota for over eight years. He regularly participates in bowling, softball, poly hockey and will be competing in swimming at the 2022 USA Games in Orlando!

Over the years, sports have been an amazing outlet for Park. Since getting started with Special Olympics, he has made new friends, become more social, and improved his physical and mental health. Park’s family members have been his biggest support system and role models through it all.

“I look up to my parents, my brother, my grandparents and the rest of my family,” says Park. “They have always been so supportive of me and my sports.”

In his free time, he enjoys watching movies and going on vacation with his family. Park also loves showing his support for Special Olympics Minnesota by taking the Polar Plunge. He has Plunged four times in Buffalo!

Park is thrilled to be a part of the 2022 USA Games, and we can’t wait to watch him compete at the national level in June.

“I look forward to doing the best that I can and meeting my new teammates and new people in Florida. I’m going to have fun and do the best that I can do!”

Kari Groebner

Sport: Half-court basketball
Hometown: Marshall, MN
Age: 34

Kari Groebner has been an athlete with Special Olympics Minnesota for over 26 years and has participated in bowling, basketball, bocce and track and field.

Through her involvement in Special Olympics, Kari has made lifelong friendships and flourished socially.

“Growing up I was shy and didn’t have many friends. Since joining Special Olympics, I have been able to be more social and now I have a great group of friends.”

Kari loves being a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete and is most proud of her stick-to-itiveness. Whether she’s just learning a new skill or competing on the national stage, Kari always makes it a point to do her best and is motivated by her role models, her older sister and mom.

“They support me in the sports I love to do and come watch when they can. Also, I look up to one of my best friends Jess. Jess is always there for me and comes to cheer me on in the sports I love!”

Kari and the rest of the squad will make history as being Team Minnesota’s first ever all-female half court basketball team to attend USA Games. They have already been working hard to stay in shape and practice their basketball skills for the big competition in June. On her own, Kari is prepping for the games by getting out to the basketball court as much as possible.

“It’s a great honor to represent Minnesota in basketball at USA Games. It means so much to me to show my skills in basketball and to show good sportsmanship,” says Kari. “I can’t wait to meet new friends from all over and make lifelong memories. Go Team Minnesota!”

Outside of Special Olympics, Kari loves to work on her diamond paintings, play games, watch movies, spend time outdoors and cheer on the Minnesota Twins!

Lucy Haugland

Sport: Gymnastics
Hometown: Plymouth, MN
Age: 24

Lucy has been involved with Special Olympics Minnesota for over 16 years. She participates in artistic and rhythmic gymnastics, alpine skiing, floor hockey and bowling. She is very involved in Leadership University and is an official Athlete Influencer, regularly sharing her passion for Special Olympics on social media.

“Special Olympics gives me social and fitness opportunities for my overall health and wellbeing. I love being challenged in my sports to become a better athlete, and the leadership classes have helped me advocate for myself and others.”

Outside of Special Olympics, Lucy loves to practice sign language, learn about her family history and volunteer at her local library.

Earlier this summer, Lucy got a big surprise! She found out that she was selected to attend the 2022 USA Games from ESPN SportsCenter anchor, Hannah Storm!

Andrea Howlett

Sport: Track & field
Hometown: West St. Paul, MN
Age: 33

In her 24 years with Special Olympics Minnesota, Andi has participated in swimming, basketball, poly hockey, track and field, softball and bocce. She’s a Global Messenger, regularly participating in Leadership University and spreading the mission of Special Olympics Minnesota to others.

Becoming a Global Messenger is one of her proudest accomplishments. “I have made many new friends,” says Andi. “I have learned how to speak in front of others and express my feelings and opinions.”

Andi’s biggest cheerleaders come from her own family, and two of her biggest inspirations are her brother, Thomas, and sister-in-law, Katie. “I admire my younger brother and his wife because they have taught me so much.”

With the support of her friends and family, Andi is prepping for USA Games by exercising, dancing and walking every day. She is excited to compete in track and field and take her leadership skills to a whole new level in Orlando, and we can’t wait to watch her shine!

Peyton Libby

Sport: Half-Court basketball
Hometown: Hanover, MN
Age: 18

Peyton Libby is a student Orono High School and first got involved with Special Olympics Minnesota in 2012. Over the years she has participated in track and field, basketball, bowling, Unified dance and snowshoeing. In addition to competing as an athlete, Peyton loves volunteering at the Polar Plunge in Maple Grove and participating in other Special Olympics events like Unified Night Out.

“Special Olympics has given me opportunities to grow when there was nothing in my community and the school I had been attending didn’t have anything for me. It has given me confidence and my favorite thing about it are the friends I’ve made.”

Peyton’s mom, Aimee, is the Head of Delegation for the St. Michael-Albertville Stallions and will be attending the 2022 USA Games as a half-court basketball coach. When asked who they admire the most, Peyton named her mom, and Aimee chose Peyton.

“I admire our daughter Peyton. She has overcome so much in her 17 years,” says Aimee. “I often say if the specialists who worked with her when she was a baby could see her now, they would be in absolute awe of how far she’s come and the amazing young lady she is today. It hasn’t been easy, but she’s persevered and put in the work to prove she can do hard things.”

Peyton attended the 2018 USA Games in Seattle as a spectator to cheer on her parents in Unified flag football, but she’s excited to have her turn to compete at the national level this June. Good luck in Orlando, Peyton!

Bethany Mussell

Sport: Swimming
Hometown: Richfield, MN
Age: 38

Bethany has been skiing, golfing and swimming with Special Olympics Minnesota for over 15 years. She’s goal-oriented and works hard to be a good role model for fellow Special Olympics athletes.

“I have already started my training by going to my local indoor and outdoor community pools and swimming the backstroke, front crawl and breaststroke at least once each week,” says Bethany. “I have always had outstanding coaches that encourage me to push myself and be the best I can be.”

Bethany really values the strong relationships she has built and is inspired by her former adapted physical education teacher and coach, Barb Becker, her former special education teacher, Diane Ahlquist, and the staff at her Opportunity Partners group home.

Over the years, Bethany has earned several gold medals in skiing, swimming and golf at the state level, but she’s ready to kick things up a notch! We’re proud of Bethany and can’t wait for her to add USA Games to her list of accomplishments!

Abby Neeser & Becca Thom

Sport: Unified Bocce
Hometown: Eagan, MN & White Bear Lake, MN
Age: 19 & 26

Abby Neeser has been involved with Special Olympics Minnesota since 2012 and has participated in bocce, golf, tennis and basketball. Bekah Thom, Abby’s cousin, joined the Special Olympics movement shortly after.

Abby had been playing bocce with The RAVE for awhile when she decided to ask her “favorite cousin” Bekah if she wanted to be her bocce partner. Bekah said yes, and the rest is history! The pair has been playing together for years, and this June they will be taking their skills to the national level at USA Games.

“I love having Bekah as a partner,” says Abby. “She’s a good partner to play with and is always encouraging me and she helps me win most games.”

Bekah is excited to attend USA Games because “it means I get to advocate for inclusion, equity and opportunities for all! I get to play side-by-side with the coolest teammate and get to enjoy the Florida sun!”

Abby and Bekah are practicing bocce together every week to prep for the games! We can’t wait to see them shine as a Unified pair in Orlando.

Darius Sirek

Sport: Powerlifting
Hometown: New Prague, MN
Age: 30

Darius has been an athlete with Special Olympics Minnesota for over half his life! He first got involved when he was just 15 years old. Throughout the years, he has participated in softball, basketball, poly hockey and bocce. But now, his main focus is powerlifting.

When asked how Special Olympics has changed his life, Darius said, “I have got to meet new people. I have got to try new sports such as powerlifting. I wouldn’t have gotten as into powerlifting as I have if it were not for my coach, Brian. It has also helped my confidence. I know that I am putting in the work to do a good job.”

When he’s not powerlifting, Darius loves spending time with his 4-year-old daughter, volunteering with his church, going to movies and playing video games. Darius is thrilled to be a part of Team Minnesota and is aiming for gold in Orlando!

Josh Skordahl

Sport: Gymnastics
Hometown: Chisago City, MN
Age: 21

Josh Skordahl started competing in gymnastics with Special Olympics Minnesota when he was just eight years old and has competed every year since. In addition to gymnastics, he participates in bowling, bocce, golf, poly hockey, swimming and equestrian.            

“Special Olympics has given me so many opportunities. I have grown stronger, become healthier and learned new skills through my involvement with Special Olympics. I have met so many new people and many have become good friends of mine and my family. I’ve learned to cheer on my friends and try my best and be happy for the person that wins, even if it’s not me.”

We know that Josh will be a great representative of Special Olympics Minnesota, cheering on his teammates and meeting new people at USA Games!

“I am so excited to participate in the 2022 USA Games. I can’t wait to meet other athletes from all over the country. I can’t wait to compete at the ESPN center and see the other athletes compete in other sports.”

When he’s not participating in Special Olympics, you can find Josh volunteering at his local nursing home, cheering on the Green Bay Packers and singing along to his favorite country songs.

Emily Ward

Sport: Equestrian
Hometown: North Branch, MN
Age: 32

Emily Ward began her journey with Special Olympics when she was young, participating in bowling, softball, track and swimming. But in high school, Emily found a love for horseback riding. She quickly began participating in equestrian events with Mission Creek and eventually joined her current team, Cloverdale Farm.

“I try not to let anything get in my way with having a disability,” says Emily. “I know that I can do anything I set my mind to. Special Olympics has taught me about good sportsmanship and being able to congratulate others.”

Emily has been training hard for the 2022 USA Games. She’s excited to travel to Orlando with Team Minnesota and do her best in the equestrian events.

“Attending the 2022 USA Games means hard work and dedication and knowing how far I’ve come. This will be my first time ever to represent Minnesota at USA Games. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and making new friends. And of course, going to Orlando because I’ve never been there before!”

Beyond her involvement with Special Olympics, Emily loves listening to music, reading, swimming, coloring, going to church and hanging out with her family and friends.

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