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Taking Their Games to Nebraska

Local athletes set to compete at Special Olympics National Games.

Three local athletes with as much passion and love for their respective sports as can be imagined will be competing at the Special Olympics 2010 National Games next Sunday through Friday (July 18-23) at the University of Nebraska.

The trio – females Jordann Long (Burke) and Katy Sanchez (Springfield), along with male David Curtin (Springfield) - are part of Team Virginia Special Olympics. In all, 33 individuals across Virginia qualified for the National Games. Nationwide, there will be over 2,800 athletes participating in Nebraska.

Long, 16 years old, will be competing in swim events at nationals. She has been swimming for the past five years within the Virginia Special Olympics program. She practices with 19 other teammates once a week from November through June at the Burke Racquet and Swim Club in Burke.

“She enjoys every aspect of the Special Olympics and swimming,” said Suzanne Long, Jordann’s mother.

Long also is a member of the Old Keene Mill Swim Team that competes throughout the summer in the NVSL. Her competitions take place on Saturdays and Mondays.

Now, her focus is on nationals in Nebraska.

“She’s been talking about it every day,” said Suzanne. “She’s so excited. Competing with other athletes there will be exciting for her, and meeting other athletes.”

Jordann, who attends Lake Braddock Secondary School, will be competing specifically in the 50-freestyle and 50-back events, as well as in a relay.

“I like swimming as a team,” she said, of her particular fondness of relay events.

Long enjoys other sports such as soccer, basketball and gymnastics. She has even taken up equestrian in the past. But she has a special love of swimming.

“She’s been really focused on swimming, taking lessons and really working hard,” said Suzanne. “She enjoys it and does well in it. She likes to compete.”

Jordann earned a gold medal in the freestyle event at the 2009 Special Olympics Virginia Games. And in the most recent 2010 state games, she garnered a gold medal in free and a bronze in backstroke.

She and her Team Virginia teammates will be flying out to Nebraska from Richmond International Airport this Saturday. Her parents, Suzanne and Jim, will be making the trip as well to watch their daughter compete.

<b>KATY SANCHEZ</b>, 22, will be giving it her best shot at nationals in several track and field events. The 2006 Hayfield High graduate will have a busy week in the corn state participating in the 100 and 400 running races, the running long jump and the shot put. Katy’s father, Joe, will be making the trip to Nebraska to watch Katy compete at next week’s games.

“I’m really looking forward to [nationals],” said Katy, whose favorite sport is actually basketball. “My favorite part will be meeting new people from all over the United States.”

At the Special Olympics Virginia Games, Sanchez finished third in the pentathlon – an event that combines an athlete’s achievements in running long jump, high jump, shot put, the 400 and 100.

As far as her love of basketball, Sanchez played the sport as a girl within the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). She enjoys hoops so much because of the team play involved.

“I like the sportsmanship in basketball and playing together,” she said. “I always played basketball.”

Katy, in recent years, got involved with track and field when one of her basketball coaches recommended she give it a try.

She has been a part of the Special Olympics for four years and loves the camaraderie and friendships she has built through the program.

“It’s a wonderful program and has opened so many doors for her,” said Susan Sanchez, Katy’s mom and a special education teacher at Mark Twain Elementary.

Katy, who is 5-foot-2, participated in the Latin America Games this past February in Puerto Rico. There, she competed in the triathlon – a tolling event that combined swimming (200-meters), bicycling (12 miles) and running (3 miles). She finished third in her division to earn a bronze medal.

Away from the athletic venues, Sanchez spends time working at Hayfield Animal Hospital, off of Telegraph Rd. During high school she studied animal science and eventually went to dog grooming school in Dumfries, which she recently completed.

Sanchez has three dogs – Rudy, a border collie; Mattie, a beagle; and Serena, a mixed border collie. She loves her dogs.

<b>FOR DAVID CURTIN</b>, swinging a golf club has been a part of his life since he was old enough to stand up. Of course, when he was a young boy playing in his back yard, he used a plastic club and ball.

For the past 12 years, Curtin, 23, has been playing in competitions through the Special Olympics. A life-long Springfield resident, he will be taking his golf game to nationals next week.

“It’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time,” said Curtin, of competing against other Special Olympians from around the country. “I’ll play some golf, meet new people and make new friends.”

Curtin, who has been involved with Special Olympics since he was a child, is a graduate of Edison High as well as from the Pulley Career Center, where he earned a certificate of completion. Currently, he is in training with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and will likely work at Reagan National Airport in time.

He has always loved athletics. In past years, he has competed in both swimming and track and field. In the fall, he enjoys playing softball.

Curtin, who has raised some of his financial support for his trip to Nebraska through the help of family, friends and the local church, earned a gold medal in golf at the Special Olympics Virginia Games in November of 2009.

Curtin and his Special Olympics teammates practice with a golf pro at Burke Lake Park. He plays locally in Special Olympics golf outings at such courses as Fairfax National and Bristow Manor as well as at Prince William Golf Course.

One aspect he loves about golf is that there is always an area of the game he can work on.

“It’s just a fun sport and you can always improve your game score wise and attitude wise,” said Curtin, who said the strength of his game is his drives off the tee.

As far as the `attitude’ aspect of his game, his dad, Chris, makes sure, in a fun manner, that David mentions that area when talking about his overall game.

Curtin’s playing partner is friend Jeff Emery. Jeff’s father, Mark Emery, is the Special Olympics golf coordinator for Area 26, which includes Fairfax County.

In all, six golfers from Virginia, including David, will be participating at nationals. Chris Curtin, David’s dad, will coach the Virginia golfers in Nebraska.

David competed in a national golf event a couple years ago and said that experience should help him next week.

“I won’t be that nervous,” he said.