On June 30, a group of Lee County Special Olympics coaches and athletes will begin their journey to Seattle, Washington, to compete in the 2018 USA Games.
Nationals comes around every four years, and by doing well in the 2017 State Games — which were the qualifiers for the 2018 USA Games — and having the luck of the draw — State Games winners were all tossed in a hat — a group of 20 Lee County athletes and coaches were randomly selected to compete in Seattle.
"I think every single one of them is extremely excited," said Alison Hall, community and special programs director with Auburn Parks and Recreation. Hall also plays an administrative role for Lee County Special Olympics and has previously served as director.
"For a lot of (the athletes), this will be their first major travel," she said. "It's an amazing experience. They get to experience travel and airports and that kind of thing, but then they also have so much socialization, not only with their teammates, but jut in meeting the other athletes and coaches."
One athlete is Robert Crouch, 31, who will travel to compete in bowling. He has only been out of Alabama once before to travel to Tennessee.
"I'm very excited," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling to be chosen for a chance to become a national representative."
Ever since the 14 athletes found out they were selected, they have practiced in "full force," Hall said. Five athletes will compete in volleyball, one in bowling and four in track and field. The other four athletes are peer partners — college-aged students who are assisting the volleyball team.
The six local coaches participating in nationals will help coach aquatics, paddle boarding, track and field and volleyball. Since no local athletes are going to compete in paddle boarding or aquatics, those coaches will be working with athletes from all over the country.
"It's a great experience for both coaches and athletes, for sure," said Hall, who has traveled as a coach twice for USA Games. She encourages community members to get involved by coaching and to not be intimidated by it.
"I think that's something I wish more people could understand because I think people are nervous like, 'Oh, I can't coach; I wasn't a high school track athlete,' or 'I didn't play volleyball,'" she said. "But anybody can coach. You have to have the heart, the interest, and then you can learn the skills."
Lee County athletes, coaches and peer partners will leave for USA Games from Auburn at 6:30 a.m. on June 30. Community members wishing to send them off should come to the Harris Center no later than 6:15 a.m.
USA Games will kick off with an opening ceremony on July 1 and end on July 6. The Lee County participants will fly home on July 7.
Follow the Special Olympic Alabama — Lee County Facebook page for daily posts about how the athletes are doing, and visit www.specialolympicsusagames.org for live updates on each sport.