Michelle Zhang is no stranger to winning.
At just 16, Zhang has had her fair share of sporting accomplishments – she has competed in the Special Olympics four times; won gold medals in regional Special Olympics slalom skiing in 2017 and 2018; was on the varsity tennis team as a sophomore at Monarch High School; and was named Special Olympics Colorado Athlete of the Month in March of this year.
Now Zhang has been invited back to compete in the Special Olympics – this time at the national level in tennis. Zhang was among two women chosen to represent Colorado State at the 2022 Special Olympics USA, which is taking place this week in Orlando.
Zhang will play doubles tennis alongside fellow Coloradoman Andie Zitek, as well as singles tennis against top athletes from other Caribbean states and countries.
Although Zhang is excited to play tennis, she says she is very excited about visiting Walt Disney World.
“I love exploring new places. I’ve been going to Orlando since I was about 7 and the resorts are so much fun – my favorite place was Magic Kingdom.”
Earlier this year, Zhang began working with coach Gonzo Garcia, owner of Gonzo Tennis Academy in Boulder, and together they began training for Special Olympics competition. Garcia joined a call with Zhang to talk about training for the competition.
“Concentrate Michelle – this is not a Disney trip!” Garcia jokes. “Don’t forget it’s about tennis!”
In February, Garcia hosted a party at the Longmont Athletic Club to raise money for Zhang’s training and equipment, as well as money for his family to travel to Orlando.
Garcia had planned to raise $1,800 in total for the trip. However, the event ended up lifting more than double that goal. Zhang’s sister and extended family will fly from California to Florida to cheer on Zhang.
Unfortunately, Garcia can’t join Zhang in Orlando, but he’s excited to see her compete from afar.
“It will be such an amazing experience for her,” Garcia said. “And if I can’t make it to Orlando this year, that’s okay. I’ll just go the next time she goes to nationals.
Zhang said she is also looking forward to meeting new people and other athletes at the competition, as well as playing alongside teammate Zitek, who is from Denver.
“For me, I prefer the doubles because there’s not as much running involved. My favorite thing is flying at the net,” Zhang said.
Lingling Liu, Zhang’s mother, said she and her family couldn’t be prouder.
“Michelle is very persistent. She never gives up – even when the going gets tough, or the weather is bad, no matter what – she will keep on doing it.
To follow Zhang and watch her compete in the Special Olympics USA games, tune in to KMGH/Denver7 on June 12. Full game coverage will air from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., or go to ustanationalcampus.com/en/home/watch.html to watch a live broadcast of the competition.