Central Kentucky will be strongly represented when the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games begin Sunday.
The USA Games will take place July 1-6 in Seattle at Husky Stadium on the campus of the University of Washington where athletes will compete in 14 different sports.
Of the more than 4,000 athletes and coaches nationwide, Lexington boasts seven competitors and one coach on Team Kentucky, as well as one athlete from Georgetown.
This year’s games, which celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, are just the fourth of their kind. Previous USA Games have been held every four years beginning in 2006.
"Not only is competing at the USA Games a tremendous honor for our athletes, but it is an incredible growth experience for them as well,” said Special Olympics Kentucky President and CEO Trish Mazzoni in a news release. “The opportunity to spend a week or more in a new city, surrounded by the energy and excitement of so many fellow athletes is a life-changing experience.”
Lexington brings several unique athletes to the 43-person Team Kentucky.
One of Team Kentucky’s most decorated Special Olympians is 46-year-old Tonya Cornett. Cornett, of Lexington, is a veteran, competing in artistic gymnastics for 22 of her 26 years as an athlete. She also earned a silver medal and three individual bronze medals in rhythmic gymnastics at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin, Ireland.
Cornett served as the athlete representative on the Special Olympics Kentucky Board for one term. Cornett has also performed the national anthem before numerous Special Olympics Kentucky events.
Ryan Barts is a 15-year Special Olympics veteran and is also a Special Olympics Global Messenger, speaking on behalf of the organization. Barts, 28, of Georgetown, is making his second trip to the USA Games as a track and field competitor where he will run the 100-meter dash, the 400 and the running long jump. Barts won a gold and two silver medals at the 2010 USA Games and competed at the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, where he won a silver medal in the long jump. Barts works at Kroger in Georgetown.
Artistic gymnast Aliya White will be the youngest member of Team Kentucky at the 2018 USA Games at 12 years old. The Lexington native has been a Special Olympics athlete for four years, competing in artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics and cheerleading. White was born in Khazakhstan, and was adopted at age 4. She attends Wellington Elementary School in Lexington.
Lexington will also be sending a couple of swimmers to Seattle in Andrew Janoski and Megan McCormick. After 12 years swimming butterfly and freestyle Janoski, 33, is making his first trip to the USA Games to compete in the 25-meter backstroke, the 50 backstroke and the 50 freestyle. Janoski is a member of the Fintastics swim team in Lexington and works at Kennedy Bookstore in Lexington.
McCormick, 28, of Lexington, has competed in swimming since she was 11. She will swim the 100 individual medley, the 100 butterfly, the 100 backstroke and a leg of the 4-by-50 medley relay. McCormick earned five medals at the 2003 World Games, and swam at the 2007 World Games in Shanghai, China, where she took home a silver and a bronze. McCormick won silver in the 100 butterfly at the 2010 USA Games. She is a graduate of Bluegrass Community and Technical College, an accomplished pianist and a camp counselor at the Beaumont YMCA In Lexington.
In a unified partner event, Wake Mullins will play in an 18-hole alternate shot golf competition with his stepfather, Dennis Gaines. Mullins has been playing golf for 10 years and despite being a 10-year Special Olympics athlete, this will be his first time competing at a full USA Games. The pair has represented Kentucky at the Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament in 2013, 2015 and 2016, placing fourth, third and second in their division, respectively.
Mullins, 21, is a graduate of Henry Clay High School in Lexington where he served as a basketball manager for four years and played for the school's golf team for two years. Mullins was added to the school's Athletics Wall of Fame before graduating.
Gaines has been a unified partner in Special Olympics for nine years, and serves as a Special Olympics coach in Fayette County.
Lexington is also sending one of 17 Team Kentucky coaches to the Games, with 25-year veteran Mary Fehrenbach serving as head artistic gymnastics coach. Fehrenbach, the 2011 Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year, has been the state’s coach at each of the previous USA Games and her teams have won 42 medals. Fehrenbach has coached in all three previous USA Games as well as four World Summer Games.
Special Olympics competitive events are open to children and adults with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older.