When gymnast Saneatha Trice of O’Fallon took off Tuesday morning for Abu Dhabi, she carried with her the well-wishes, patriotic floral bouquet and a proclamation from the city delivered by standing ovation Monday night.
Saneatha is one of seven Illinois and 230 U.S. Special Olympics athletes who will compete in the World Summer Games from March 14-21 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the first time the games will be in the Middle East. She is the only one from the metro-east, and the second in history to make it there.
Saneatha, a five-time national gold medalist in this past summer’s USA Games in Seattle, will compete in artistic gymnastics’ all five events — floor exercise, vault, balance beam, bars and all-around.
“It is a tremendous honor,” Mayor Herb Roach said at the O’Fallon City Council meeting. “We are so happy to have this lady here. She is only wearing one of her medals, but she has five.”
“You are an inspiration to all of us,” he said.
Roach said he was quoting her favorite motivational phrase: “You get what you get.”
“Know that O’Fallon is cheering for you. We’re very proud that you will represent us,” he said. “We’re all rooting for you.”
Saneatha has been competing in the Special Olympics since she was in eighth grade, discovering a passion and purpose for her sport and competition.
Jenny Hitt, her coach, said she knew Saneatha was an exceptional athlete when she walked into the gym.
“She did a handspring over the vault. She had never been in the gym before,” she said. “I am so proud of her. She has been a delight to coach. Now she’s ready to take on the world.”
Saneatha gave a special thanks to the O’Fallon Police Department for their efforts to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
The World Games is the largest sporting event in the world. More than 7,000 athletes from 170 countries will compete in 24 sports and participate in a variety of activities held across seven Emirates.
The World Games, held every two years, alternates between Winter and Summer, and showcases the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities and the impact of Special Olympics through world-class competition, inspirational experiences, and modeling inclusion for all.
The Special Olympics celebrated its 50th anniversary last July in Chicago, home of the first games in 1968. The organization has grown since it began its mission of advocacy and action for social change and now includes more than 5 million Special Olympics athletes across 172 countries.
Last summer, more than 4,000 participants representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with the support of tens of thousands of volunteers and spectators, competed in 14 Olympic-type team and individual sports at the games.