Five Alaskans to Represent Special Olympics Team USA

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by Jake Ryle

ANCHORAGE, Alaska--Ask any athlete why they play the sport they choose to participate in, and they'll likely answer, "To represent something bigger than myself".

For four Special Olympics athletes and a coach, their dream of representing themselves has been pushed to a global level.

April Ney, Paul Standen, Kinna Ledger, Misty Cunitz and Bryan Knight will be representing Team USA in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.

Here's a quick biography on each participant:

Coach's Name: April Ney

Years Involved in Special Olympics: 3

Previous World/National Games Experience: N/A

Accomplishments/Greatest Achievements: Being invited to become a member of the Anchorage Community Management Team as the Competition Chair.

What does attending the World Games mean to her: Attending my first World Games and the opportunity to lead some of the world's most inspiring athletes to success while representing my country on an international level is an honor unparalleled by anything else I have ever been a part of. It means an opportunity to try to pass along some of the joy, inspiration and pride I have gained from coaching Special Olympics athletes.

How Special Olympics has changed her life: Provided me with a fullfillment and purpose no other form of volunteering or coaching could provide. I have felt inspired, amazed and humbled at the conclusion of every event I attend.

Athlete Name: Bryan Knight:

Years involved in Special Olympics: 23

Previous World/National Games Experience: 2003, 2001, 1995

Other sports competed in: Aside from Alpine Skiing, Bryan participates in Basketball, bocce, bowling, equestrian, golf, gymnastics, floor hockey, and speed skating.

Accomplishments: Bryan has been a board member for 6 years on the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education. Bryan has also been a special speaker at Special Olympics Summer and Winter games.

How Special Olympics has changed his life: Special Olympics has provided Bryan with many opportunities to meet people, make friends, and have a purpose that might otherwise not exist. Bryan has gained confidence and is now more active both physically and in the community.

Athlete Name: Misty Cunitz

Years in Special Olympics: 11 years

Previous World/National Games experience: N/A

Other sports compete in: Aquatics, bowling, soccer and alpine skiing.

Accomplishments: Misty is very proud of her ability to work well with others and the progress she has made over the years in skiing.

What does attending the Games mean to her: It will be a new experience entirely for her. She looks forward to meeting new people, making new friends, and spending time in a new environment.

Athlete Name: Kinna Ledger

Years in Special Olympics: 7

Previous World/National Games experience: N/A

Other sports compete in: Cross-country skiing, aquatics, basketball, bowling and snowshoeing.

How Special Olympics changed her life: Kinna loves to be involved in sports and Special Olympics keeps her active. Special Olympics has allowed Kinna to make many new friends and not be afraid to try new things.

Athlete Name: Paul Standen

Years involved in Special Olympics: 19

Previous World/National Games experience: N/A

Other sports compete in: Athletics and bowling.

What attending World Games means to him: Paul views competing in the Winter World Games as a member of Team USA as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Paul is thrilled to see how everyone else in the world lives, trains and what it means to them to compete in the Special Olympics.

How Special Olympics has changed their lives: Special Olympics has allowed Paul to be more outgoing and make many new friends. Competing in 3 Special Olympics sports seasons throughout the year, Paul has a much busier schedule and is always looking forward to competition.