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Bloomington duo medals in unified competition at Special Olympics World Games

 Rob Kelley and Drew White
Rob Kelley, left, Drew White earned bronze medals in unified tennis at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany.

Two Bloomington athletes brought home medals at the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany.

SOAR (Special Opportunities Available in Recreation) athletes Drew White and Rob Kelley represented their community at the games, winning bronze playing in unified doubles tennis. White also won bronze in singles tennis.

The duo has been competing together for eight years. They met through a mutual friend after White’s previous unified partner, Carol Watson, stepped back from tennis to focus on her family, according to White.

White, 30, and Kelley, 66, a State Farm Insurance retiree, have competed and won in local games and the Special Olympics Illinois Regional tournament each year, but this was their first time attending the World Games.

White and Kelley had more than 40 practice sessions between finding out that they would attend the World Games and playing against athletes from around the globe. The two also attended the team trials in San Antonio where they met coaches and fellow members of the USA tennis team.

White and Kelley note that meeting competitors and making friends was a highlight of the trip.

“The sportsmanship was incredible among everybody,” Kelley said. “We congratulated each other, we weren’t enemies on the other side of the net, but everybody was very competitive too.”

White said that his relationships with his tennis partners are a special aspect of playing tennis.

“My partnership with Carol and Rob, that I’ve been playing [with] for years,” White said. “They’re really good partners to me, I really like playing with them and playing tennis for the World Games this year. I’ll never forget it.”

White and Kelley’s friendship goes beyond the tennis court.

“We do events together, we go to ball games, or we’ll go out to a Chinese buffet and just have fun and chat,” Kelley said. “Being able to get to know each other more deeply has really meant a lot to me.”

White and Kelley plan to keep playing together and are playing in the Special Olympics State Tennis event in Bloomington next month. SOAR anniversary SOAR plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary with an open house celebration from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Tipton Park north shelter and west field in Bloomington. No registration is required for this event.

SOAR also offers unified play in tennis, volleyball, golf, and bocce. SOAR also offers recreational unified programming such as foot golf and Seat to SOAR, a walking/running program.

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Megan Spoerlein is a reporting intern at WGLT. She started in 2023. Megan is also studying journalism at Illinois State University.
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