Joey Roney with his Special Olympics silver medal.

A few weeks ago, several American athletes partook in one of their greatest sporting events ever; the Special Olympics. As part of this event, a handful of local athletes traveled to Abu Dhabi to show their skills. This was the first time that the Special Olympics were held in Abu Dhabi since the program debuted 50+ years ago. This was done to promote a more inclusive society that extends out to internationally to everyone.

Among the 7500 participants at this event, there was a small band of local athletes from around Fairfax County that performed in Abu Dhabi. A team that consisted of seven players went to the Olympics and a few of them really lit up the competition. The main three stars of this group were Joey Roney, Jenny Mitchell, and Karen Dickerson. While all of these individuals do multiple sports, two of them primarily focus on swimming.

One of these swimmers is Mr. Joey Roney who joined the Special Olympics five years ago. He also swims frequently with the Oakton Swim Club to stay in shape. Roney’s favorite memory from his career is when he won his first Gold Medal at the Olympics in Seattle, but he says his Silver Medal win in Abu Dhabi was more special because, “I was swimming against the fastest Special Olympic swimmers in the world.” Adding that he “swam 7 seconds faster than the race in Seattle.” Roney’s reaction to this moment was pure joy, “I couldn’t believe it,” He said, “The thousands of hours of practice finally paid off.”

Another major highlight from the experience for Roney was when his swim team toured the city. He described it as “Disneyland, but bigger…we visited the tallest building in the world, and a shopping center that had an aquarium, this was a trip of firsts for me, traveling on a plane without my parents, going overseas, and my first World Games.”

The other swimmer of the big three was Jennifer Mitchell of Alexandria who was unfazed by the crowds of Abu Dhabi, having been to the Special Olympics in Shanghai, “I knew what to expect going into this,” said Mitchell. She also added that the best part of the experience was, “meeting new people and running into old friends who I’ve swam with before.” When asked why her favorite sport is swimming, she said that, “I like the feel of water on me, and it’s easier for me.”

Mitchell swam the 800-meter freestyle which was her sole event.

For Karen Dickerson of Springfield, her athletic accomplishments would occur on the ground instead of in the water. She says her career as a runner began, “In middle school, where we ran for 20 minutes one day and I enjoyed it, which led to me joining my high school’s cross-country team.”

Dickerson has made it a goal in life to complete a marathon in every state, having completed 28 so far. Dickerson participated in the half-marathon, 10K track race, and the 4X100 Relay race at the Special Olympics. Stating that her favorite one was, “The half marathon the most because I like to run long distances.”

These athletes returned home last week after their time spent overseas and showcasing their talents. The only thing that would be more fun for these guys is to get ready for the next competition to sign on for in the future. Proving that anyone can be a star player, you just have to find the right sport.

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