Illinois athlete Chad Gatlin of Peoria was one of eight Special Olympics athletes to receive individual instruction from U.S. Olympian and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Apolo Ohno at the 2nd Annual Apolo Ohno Invitational in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Nov. 13 Invitational featured eight of the world’s top Special Olympics speed skating athletes at the Olympic Oval. Gatlin and the others raced in short-track speed skating men’s and women’s team relay, 500-meter and 1,000-meter races.
Gatlin, 41, has been skating since the age of eight with his coaches Barb and Larry Needham of Pekin through Tri-County Independents. With the help of the Needhams, Gatlin sent in a video submission to Special Olympics and was selected.
“Chad was very excited about being chosen to go,” said Larry Needham, who attended the invitational with Chad. “They had all levels of top skaters and he made some new friends.”
All of the athletes, including Gatlin, had the chance to work individually with Ohno and members of the U.S. Speed Skating Team the day prior to the event. Ohno worked with Gatlin on his crossover technique. Gatlin skated in the 500-meter race, placing fourth overall.
Gatlin, who lives independently and works at Richwoods High School cafeteria, represented Special Olympics USA at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, where he earned two silver medals and one bronze in speed skating.
“I’m so thrilled to be able to help champion Unified Sports by bringing back the Unified Relay again at our Invitational this year,” said Ohno. “These Special Olympics athletes are training and competing at such an intense level and being a part of this experience allows me to help further our mission of inclusion for all.”
The athletes’ parents and coaches were also invited to speak at a Project UNIFY School to speak with the students. Gatlin, normally a quiet athlete, was more than happy to speak about his experience with Special Olympics.
“I was kind of shocked and so were his mom and dad (who also attended),” said Larry Needham. “He stood up and told the students about speed skating and Special Olympics.”
This friendly competition brought together five athletes from the United States, two from Canada and one from Japan. The Apolo Ohno Invitational showed the power of Special Olympics Unified sports by bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities through sports.
By Allison Keck, Communications Intern