A busy year is about to get busier for Special Olympics athlete Katie Degnan.
In addition to competing in her regular sports, tennis and swimming, Degnan has been at the front of some very special Special Olympics events.
In May, Degnan lit the cauldron at the Mecklenburg County Spring Games opening ceremonies at Bojangles’ Coliseum and presented the Pledge of Allegiance at the Special Olympics State Games opening ceremonies in Raleigh.
She also was recently named as a Global Messenger spokesperson for Special Olympics.
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This week, there’s more.
Degnan will be one of 300 athletes representing the United States at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles on July 25-Aug. 2. Degnan will participate in tennis, one of 17 sports in which U.S. athletes will compete.
The youngest of Mike and Jackie Degnan’s five children, Katie, 22, lives in Cotswold with her parents. She has participated in Special Olympics for six years and proudly displays the 47 medals she’s earned on local and state levels on her bedroom wall.
In 2012, Degnan played for a unified volleyball team that competed in the 2012 USA Open Nationals in Utah. Unified teams are those that have a combination of Special Olympics athletes and non-Special Olympics athletes.
Katie Degnan will be one of 300 athletes representing the United States at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles on July 25-Aug. 2. Degnan will participate in tennis, one of 17 sports in which U.S. athletes will compete.
But participating in the World Games is by far the most exciting Special Olympics moment she’s had. In recognition of her achievement, Degnan received the Laurel Wreath Award from Gov. Pat McCrory for being an “ambassador of good will through athletics from the great State of North Carolina.”
Special Olympics athletes are selected for national and international competitions by a drawing between those who place first, second or third in their events at statewide events.
Degnan was notified by a Special Olympics of North Carolina representative last summer that she would be participating.
“My mom got a call from Kelly Vaughn,” said Degnan. “She was picking me up from work. I was excited. I said ‘Oh my gosh. I’m going to the World Games.’”
In October, Degnan flew to Indianapolis for a five-day training camp for all of the U.S. athletes. She met her teammates, was measured for her World Games gear, and “played a lot of tennis.”
On June 4, Degnan was one the several Charlotteans who participated in the World Games Unified Torch Relay Across America. She carried the torch for a half-mile stretch through Plaza-Midwood. Degnan’s swim team coach, Amy Clarke, also handled it for a leg.
Swimming was Degnan’s first Special Olympics sport. She was a natural, having been a member of Myers Park High’s swim team for four years before graduating in 2012. Degnan specializes in the 100- and 500-yard freestyles and the 100-yard butterfly.
Degnan, who also enjoys Facebooking and listening to Taylor Swift music, was introduced to tennis by Special Olympics coach Bob Bowler while she attended Camp Soar at the Levine Jewish Community Center in Charlotte. Among all of Degnan’s medals, seven are for tennis including three gold, one silver and three bronze.
Special Olympics tennis season runs from August to November. Players practice at the Russell Tennis Center and Ballantyne Country Club with coach Dori Cazorla.
Degnan has stepped up her training in the last couple months. Her mother leads her through a daily set of serves and volley drills at the courts at nearby East Mecklenburg High.
At the World Games, Degnan will be coached by two volunteers from Boone: Karen Perot and Lauren Harkey. They will live on the UCLA campus. Mike and Jackie Degnan also will make the trip.
Degnan says she is looking forward to playing against and meeting people from other countries.
“We get to trade pins and shirts with them,” she said.
Degnan will be honored at the Winston-Salem Open, a men’s professional tennis tournament Aug. 23-29. She and fellow local Special Olympics tennis player Sarah Cazorla will play in an exhibition match.
In the fall, Degnan’s life will return to normal. She will return to her job at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School working with children in its afterschool program and will resume playing tennis in the local Special Olympics program.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.