MEET THE TEAM: Country Profile - USA
In the second of our profiles of some of the visiting Special Olympics teams, meet team U… S… A…!
It all started in America so it’s no surprise that the USA delegation for the Special Olympics World Games 2019 is 300+ members strong. Special Olympics USA is comprised of over 200 athletes, 60+ coaches and approximately 34 delegation members who support team operations.
Athletes will compete across 18 of the 24 sports offered including athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, golf, gymnastics – artistic, gymnastics—rhythmic, open water swimming, powerlifting, sailing, swimming, table tennis, tennis, triathlon, and volleyball.
While Special Olympics organizations across the states are still busy with year-round activities, they are actively encouraging their squad as they prepare for the main event in Abu Dhabi this March. Every athlete makes an important contribution to the team and a few are highlighted below. Catch a glimpse of the remaining team members by searching #Cheer4USA on social media.
Erykah Culbertson - Track and Field
Erykah Culbertson has been competing in the Special Olympics since 2005 across several sports. She has earned medals in tennis, basketball, cheerleading, equestrian, bowling and Alpine skiing. Erykah is currently training to represent Team USA in Track and Field and will compete in three events including the 100-meter dash, relay race and the running long jump.
While she will be competing solo, the journey to Abu Dhabi is a family affair as her dad is her coach.
“I think it's an awesome experience to be able to coach your daughter to go to the World Games. It's a special bond that we have. She's real competitive and I bring that out in her," Michael Culbertson says.
She is indeed competitive and going for gold. When asked what her main goal is for the World Games she said, “I hope I win.” Erykah also hopes to one day become a Special Olympics coach but outside of Special Olympics, Erykah works at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is passionate about animals, volunteering at her local cat shelter.
Joseph Bradley - Equestrian
Joseph Bradley is a senior at Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. He enjoys math and science and dreams of becoming a doctor or chef, but first, he intends to win a gold medal at the Special Olympics World Games. Joseph has been attending Montgomery’s Therapeutic Recreation Center since he was six where he started doing gymnastics in 2011. When he told his mom he’d rather ride horses, she said she was skeptical and scared since Joseph is paralyzed on the right side of his body but exhibiting great determination Joseph mastered mounting the horse. Perhaps unsurprisingly one of his favorite sayings is; "You can do it!"
And he did… He went on to win the state’s Special Olympics equestrian competition in May, which qualified him to attend the international games. It has been at least 10 years since an Alabamian has been selected to attend, and decades longer since anyone from the state has been selected for the Equestrian Team.
“I just like being there and riding horses,” Joseph said about the recreational center.
On why he likes riding horses, “It’s calming and relaxing,” he said.
“The key is to be patient with the horse,” he explained.
Aaron Gudenkauf - Golf
Since Aaron Gudenkauf was 10 years old, he has been a part of the Topeka Shawnee Special Olympics team. In March, at 39 years old, he will travel to Abu Dhabi to compete in the Special Olympics World Games, but this is not his first international competition. Aaron competes in swimming, volleyball, basketball, bocce, bowling, golf and softball. At the World Games, Aaron will compete in golf with his coach and longtime friend, Mitchell Hinrichs.
When he isn't competing, Aaron spends time working at McFarland's Restaurant in Topeka, Kansas, where he has worked for the last 15 years. He is looking forward to traveling to Abu Dhabi and meeting new athletes!
Joining Aaron in Abu Dhabi is Mitchell Hinrichs, competing as a Special Olympics Unified partner in golf. He’s been involved in Special Olympics for about eight years during which he coached athletics, swimming, softball, volleyball and basketball. He has also participated as a Unified partner in volleyball and works for a company that provides both day and residential services in Topeka, Kansas, and balances his time between work and Special Olympics by spending time with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Scarlett.
Hinrichs said he has been coaching Aaron for about 10 years and that he's a good person through and through.
"He has a very soft heart and he's actually really funny," Hinrichs said. "He doesn't talk a lot but you know when he's goofing around. He loves having a good time."
Hinrichs is really proud of Aaron’s determination to be a part of the Special Olympics and to be nominated for the World Games.