Tania Wright was looking for activities to do with her best friend, Kimberly Henry, when she stumbled upon Special Olympics. The 39-year-old wanted a healthy lifestyle and realized that sports and recreation would be her best outlet. Henry had told her about therapeutic recreation, something Wright had never heard of before. When she did an online search, she found Special Olympics Colorado. “Everyone is so nice and welcoming,” Wright says about the organization. “I like the sports, I like to compete, but I really like the sense of belonging.”
Up until that point, Wright hadn't been active in sports in a long time. She tended to stay home but was now searching for an avenue to grow as an individual. That avenue turned out to be Special Olympics and the sport of powerlifting. With only one year of experience, she has been chosen to represent Colorado at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida (June 5–12). “I’m just excited for the experience,” she says. “I get to meet new people and compete against athletes nationwide to see where I’m at [skill wise].”
Only a few months out from the competition, Wright is training weekly and eating as healthy as she can—that includes getting lots of protein. The three main lifts in powerlifting are squat, bench press and deadlift, and Wright will compete in all three. A recent foot injury has limited her squat training, but she says she lifts 110 pounds in bench press and 275 pounds for the deadlift. A typical practice for her is about two hours once a week, and she and her powerlifting coach, Tom Miller, focus on fundamentals and technique.
Miller says he relies on the pace of his athletes to achieve personal bests. To celebrate those personal bests, Miller gives the powerlifters a colorful stamp that goes on their arms. The stamps, which read “Personal Best! Rude Dog Powerlifting”, motivate the athletes to keep working. Last year Wright got a “Personal Best” stamp in nearly every practice.
That accomplishment highlights something special about Wright: her desire to be the best she can be on an individual basis. Her hard work earned her the powerlifting state record for Special Olympics Colorado at last year’s State Games. “It felt really good to do that, and now it gives me a goal to beat it,” says Wright.
Wright will have an opportunity to beat that goal in Orlando. She’ll also have the chance to compete against the top Special Olympics powerlifters in the United States—and she hopes it will take her skill to the next level. Wright says it’s an honor to be chosen to compete. “I remember my coach telling me and I got a little speechless,” she says.
While she is enthusiastic about competing, she’s also nervous of the unknown. “Where are we going to stay, and what’s the day look like? That’s what I’m nervous about,” Wright says.
Nerves are an expected part of competition and traveling, but Wright will have the support of her teammates, Coach Miller and her USA Games coach, Jesse Branham. And perhaps her biggest support? Kimberly Henry, who will be competing in soccer.
The USA Games will be a full-circle moment for these two best friends.