WHEELING, Ill. – Days away from his first Special Olympics USA Games, Kyle Tuckey could not be more pumped.
“Oh, I’m feeling phenomenal because it’s what every athlete trains for.”
Kyle, Chris Kenter and Mareena Mattison make up three of the seven gymnasts representing Team Illinois at this week’s national games in Orlando.
“They’re great to work with. When you see them everyday, they put you in better mood,” explained Team Illinois gymnastics head coach Glen Marks. “They work as hard as anyone else. I just want to see them do well, watch them win medals and show the world what they can do.”
The trio trains at American Academy of Gymnastics in Wheeling and have formed a special bond as they go for gold.
“It’s a journey. We’ve gone to nationals and state together,” noted Mattison. “Having them by my side – it’s just amazing. I know that they’re there cheering me on and I’m cheering them on. If they’re doing great, I’m probably doing great.”
19-year old Mareena is already the Illinois state and national champion, but she’s most proud of her impact on others.
“I meet new people all the time. I’m an inspirer. I put a smile on people’s face. They’re like, ‘oh, I want to do that!’”
Kyle can make others smile with a song. The 28-year-old plays nine instruments and will perform on his keyboard during the national anthem at the USA Games.
“I’ve tried every instrument and they are all by ear. What I do is – if I go to bar and see a band that plays, I’ll go up on the stage and I’ll ask ‘can you step aside?’ And I’ll actually just start playing.”
He’s also a service ambassador at United Airlines, an emergency management 2nd responder and works for a veterinarian. All this plus training for the games three to four days a week for several hours with three pacemakers in his body as he manages severe epilepsy.
“Let me put it this way – Special Olympics basically made me who I am today. They included me and we always say ‘choose to include.'”
“I always say we want to bring out their ability not their disability because they are able to do anything that anyone else can do,” said Marks.
They definitely believe in their ability to not just compete, but win.
What makes team so confident? “Our coach,” remarked Kenter. “He makes us work hard.”
“I plan on it,” Tuckey added. “I have tricks that I have not revealed to anyone yet that people are going to just have to wait to see till next week.”
We can’t wait.