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Bronze Beauty

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Altamonte’s own Annamarie Nieves is just back from Abu Dhabi with a chestful of medals from the Special Olympics World Games

With her versatile athleticism and boundless determination, Annamarie Nieves of Altamonte Springs is accustomed to success.

She has won medal after medal at Special Olympics competitions throughout Florida. But this was a year of firsts for the 18-year-old Lake Brantley High student, who has Down syndrome. Annamarie earned multiple medals at the Special Olympics World Games that took place recently in Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates. Her event was rhythmic gymnastics, a blend of gymnastics, ballet, and dance.

This was Annamarie’s first overseas trip. It was the first time she flew by airplane for a Special Olympics competition. And it was the first time she traveled without her parents.

While Omar and Ann Nieves did make the trip to Abu Dhabi, their daughter flew separately with her delegation.

Annamarie remembers the grueling 16-hour trip mostly for its abundance of in-flight movies.

Rhythmic gymnastics involves performing to music while handling a ball, hoop, rope, or ribbon. Annamarie took the bronze medal in both ball and all-around, as well as fourth place in hoop and rope, and eighth place in ribbon.

“I’m good!” says the athlete, with a wide and beaming smile.

Annamarie also enjoys bowling, tennis, and cheerleading. Her goal is to succeed in surfing, as well, though she confesses to some trepidation about sharks.

“Annamarie is an all-around very talented athlete,” says Victoria Johnson, Seminole County director for Special Olympics Florida. “She is also one of the sweetest young ladies I have ever met. She really has blossomed.”

Annamarie has a mischievous side, too, her mom says.

“She can be sassy,” Ann says with a smile.

The family spent two-and-a-half weeks in Abu Dhabi, known for its skyscrapers, shopping, and a mosque capable of holding 40,000 worshipers.

“It was so beautiful,” Ann says of the gleaming city. “Very modern. And I can’t say enough how friendly the people were.”

The 2019 World Games was the largest event in Special Olympics history, and the first to take place in the Middle East. About 7,500 athletes competed in more than two-dozen sports, including a 313-member delegation representing the United States.

Annamarie has been involved in Special Olympics for 10 years. Her parents signed her up when she was eight years old for the exercise and social interaction. She has gained friendships, confidence, and independence along the way.

It is possible, Victoria says, that Annamarie could one day become an athlete leader with the Special Olympics, acting as a mentor for younger competitors. Although preparing for that role will take much time and dedication, Victoria has no doubt Annamarie can rise to the challenge.

After all, she practiced every single day for almost a year after learning she qualified for the World Game

“She’s willing and able to grasp anything we approach her with,” Victoria says.

The trip to Abu Dhabi was not cheap, and the Seminole chapter of Special Olympics is responsible for all the costs.

“We’re still fundraising to pay the bill,” Victoria says.

But, obviously, it is worth the expense for these athletes to experience a combination of travel to new places, chances to make lasting friendships, and the glory of excelling at their chosen sports.

“It really does change their lives,” Victoria says.

For more information about the Special Olympics in Seminole County, or to become an athlete, volunteer, or coach, contact Victoria Johnson at 407-242-2938 or VictoriaJohnson@SOFL.org , or visit SpecialOlympicsSeminole.org.

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