By Cristina Janney
Two athletes and two coaches from Hays were part of the Kansas contingent that traveled June 4-12 to compete in the Special Olympics USA games in Orlando, Florida.
Kacey Dannels competed in track and field and Ryan Hoag in bowling. Brent Kaiser coached track and field and Noalee McDonald-Augustine assisted the tennis and track teams.
Four Kansas athletes competed in the track and field portion of the event. Just under 100 Kansas athletes participated in the games. All Kansas track athletes have won medals.
Kaiser said the heat was a factor in the competition, but everyone did very well.
Dannels won a silver in the shot put, a bronze in the 4X100 relay and a bronze in the 400 meters.
“It’s great because you can go to all kinds of events,” Dannels said of athletics. “I just like running. I like running shorter distances.”
Hoag, 38, placed sixth in singles, fourth in doubles and sixth in team.
Both Hoag and Dannels said their favorite part of attending the games was meeting other athletes.
“You just have to see different states, make new friends, and have a unique experience,” Dannels said.
Dannels said she also enjoys watching other athletes compete in softball and volleyball.
This was Dannels’ second trip to Special Olympics USA. She also attended the national event in 2018 in Seattle.
Dannels participates in Special Olympics activities year-round, including bowling, softball, volleyball, as well as track and field.
Regional, state and national Special Olympics have been suspended during the pandemic for the protection of athletes.
“It was a great time to get back to doing what we all love,” Dannels said.
Kaiser of Hays is a former employee of the Arc of the Central Plains and is now the Development and Sports Coordinator for Special Olympics Kansas.
Kaiser said it was important for athletes to be able to reconnect with friends this year.
“Our athletes haven’t been able to see some of their friends from across the state that they normally see,” he said. “They had all got used to seeing each other.
“Special Olympics Kansas is really just a big community. Everyone gets along really well and knows each other. It was really cool to get everyone together.
“I was really proud of how our Hays athletes and coaches represented themselves while they were there,” Kaiser said. “Everyone had a really good time. They met new people, which I think is important. The social side is a big part of that.”
Local athletes also visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom while in Orlando.
Textron provided a private jet in cooperation with Garmin as part of the Special Olympics Airlift to transport Hays Special Olympics athletes from Wichita to Orlando. Kaiser said a large contingent was on hand to cheer on the athletes as they left Wichita and returned from Orlando.