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World Games await Mulligan

Papillion Times - 3/14/2017

When Rachel Mulligan got started in Special Olympics five years ago, she tried just about everything.

There was bowling, basketball, swimming and a host of other sports where she was willing to be a participant.

Mulligan decided to give cross country skiing a go. Five years later, her love of the sport has earned the Papillion-La Vista South graduate a trip to Austria.

Mulligan, 24, will be one of 109 athletes from the United States taking part in the Special Olympics World Games March 18-25 in Austria. She is one of just two competitors from Nebraska among the more than 2,700 athletes who will be taking part in the event.

The Winter World Games have been held every four years dating back to 1977.

"I like being outdoors and being out in the snow," Rachel said. "It was a little hard when I first tried it, but once I got the rhythm, it got a little easier."

Rachel was nominated by her coach, Sandra Morgan, a year ago to participate in the World Games.

"We got sent information letting us know she was eligible and we were very interested," said Rachel's father, Mike Mulligan. "About a month later, we were informed she was invited to the games."

Rachel was also invited to take part in a Special Olympics training camp in Vermont last December. The only stipulation was she had to attend the camp without her family.

"They wanted to make sure they could work with the team without their family around," Mike said. "It was the first time we had been apart for that long, and it was probably more traumatic on this end. She was probably glad to get away from us for a few days."

Rachel practiced with many other cross country skiers from across the United States, many of whom will be making the trip to the World Games with her. She is one of 19 members of the U.S. cross country contingent.

Rachel also practices with her local team at Swanson Park in Bellevue, that is when Mother Nature cooperates with a heavy snowfall. This mild winter has Rachel doing exercises on her own to get ready for the World Games.

Aside from what she has learned competing in Special Olympics, Mike said Rachel's most notable victories have come outside of athletics.

"Special Olympics has made a huge difference in Rachel," he said. "It has provided an environment where the athletes evolve and blossom. It instills confidence in them and allows their personality to develop."

Mike said he has seen Rachel take on a leadership role through Special Olympics. She serves as an ambassador for the organization, often speaking to groups one or two times a week about the merits of Special Olympics.

"Rachel was a very quiet person, but this has helped her develop a confidence she didn't have before," he said.

He said that confidence has also allowed her to get her first job, working at the local The Egg and I, as well as taking classes at Metropolitan Community College.

Rachel wasn't making any promises about bringing home a medal, simply saying "I will do my best."

But aside from the skiing, what she's most looking forward to is seeing new places and meeting new people.

"It's a country I've never been to before," she said. "I'm excited to meet a lot of new people."

She and her teammates begin their travels on Sunday. Their first stop will be in Chicago to meet up with the Illinois Special Olympics group. Then it's on to Washington D.C., where they will meet with the entire U.S. team before traveling to Austria.

Mike and his wife, Pam, will both make the trek to Austria to watch Rachel compete.

Mike said is excited for the opportunity to see his daughter compete on a big stage.

"It's really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Mike said. "A lot of people have stepped up to help make this happen and I'm very grateful for them."


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