Thousands of athletes will gather in Berlin, Germany, this summer to participate in the Special Olympics World Games, the world’s largest inclusive sports event. Over nine days in June, athletes will participate in 26 sports competitions, including cycling, field hockey, and tennis. Of the roughly 7,000 athletes competing in Berlin, 133 will represent the United States. One of those athletes is Matthew Krohn, a long-time member of the South Region Stars, a team of Special Olympics Minnesota, who is also a client at Lifeworks.
“Pretty exciting,” says Matthew about the opportunity to represent Special Olympics USA at the World Games. Matthew, 27, has been involved in Special Olympics since he was eight and started swimming a little over a decade ago. Year-round, Matthew plays other sports, including Bocce, bowling, and hockey, but this summer he will showcase his skills as a swimmer in the 25-meter back, 50-meter freestyle individual, and the 50-meter freestyle relay competitions.
Matthew’s journey to the World Games involved a lot of training, a gold medal in swimming at the state level competition, an application process to compete at the World Games, and then finally another trial in Texas late last year. After performing well at the trials in Texas, he was notified that he had been selected as part of the United States delegation. “To get ready for Berlin, we do practice and work out,” Matthew shares, mentioning that he trains with his team and individually with his coach Alyssa. While the training is hard work, Matthew says, “I felt good after this, the workout. My heart was beating fast!”
This will be Matthew’s first time participating in a competition of this scale. The occasion isn’t fazing Matthew yet, who says he isn’t feeling nervous at all. “I’m just excited to see what I’m going to do in the first week when I’m there!” Along with participating in the swimming competitions, Matthew will cheer on his fellow teammates, walk through the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony, and take in the sights of Berlin. He is even leaning into the full experience of being “ein Berliner” by learning some phrases in German before he takes off.
Matthew will have the support of many folks back home when he leaves for Germany, including his Lifeworks job coach Amy, his family, and his coworkers at the Saint Paul police department. When the games begin, his parents will be in the crowd to root him on. Matthew also sees competing in a sport he loves at the World Games as an opportunity to be more independent. One of his future goals is to move out and live in his own place. To support his dream, he has been meeting with his case manager to begin making a plan.
For now, Matthew is setting his sights on enjoying the experience of the World Games. He draws on the Special Olympic Athlete Oath to keep himself leveled, which he recites: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” He also believes it’s important to show good sportsmanship as he represents himself and the other athletes on his team. “I remember good sportsmanship. Part of good sportsmanship means to be kind.”
The Special Olympics World Games will run from June 17 to June 25. Michael Müller, the former Governing Mayor of Berlin, touches on the importance of this year’s event, saying, “The Special Olympics World Games are an outstanding example of inclusion in action, putting people with disabilities and their sporting prowess firmly in the limelight.” After months of hard work, he finally has the chance to have the limelight shown on him. We asked him how it feels as he takes all his preparation to Berlin. Chuckling, he says, “I’m ready!”
Update: July 5, 2023
We followed up with Matthew and his job coach Amy following the conclusion of the Special Olympics World Games to ask about his experience. Matthew competed in three swimming events during his time in Germany and came away with a well-deserved gold medal after winning the 25-meter backstroke. Matthew said touring the city of Bremen, a city in northwest Germany that hosted the Special Olympics USA team, was one of his favorite parts of the trip. He also really enjoyed taking part in the opening ceremony at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. When asked what it meant for him to take part in the Special Olympics World Games, he responded that he was proud of himself and that it was a good experience overall.