210 Athletes and Coaches to Represent U.S. at 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games

Michigan is sending six athletes, one coach and two management team members to the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.

Special Olympics Michigan is proud to announce six athletes will represent the United States as part of Special Olympics USA at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games. The Games will be held March 14-25, 2017 in Graz, Ramsau and Schladming, Austria. These athletes include: Nikota Easterling (Grand Haven, Cross-Country Skiing), Chloe Fox (Grosse Pointe Woods, Alpine Skiing), Nickolas Hilton (Lansing, Snowshoeing), Joe Kaczynski (Midland, Cross-Country Skiing), Jessica Manees (Northville, Snowshoeing) and Leslie Venema (Dimondale, Cross-Country Skiing).

Special Olympics USA is the national team that represents the United States at the Special Olympics World Summer and Winter Games. The 210-member delegation is comprised of 150 athletes, 40 coaches and approximately 20 delegation members who support team operations. The delegation also includes Special Olympics Unified Sports teams, where people with and without intellectual disabilities compete together, as teammates. Team members will compete in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating.

In addition to the six athletes, Special Olympics Michigan is also sending one coach and two management team members to Austria: Maciej Litkowiec (Clinton Township, Alpine Skiing Assistant Coach), Heather Burke (Rockford, Alpine Skiing Sport Manager) and Aaron Mills (Mt. Pleasant, Communications Director).

Inspector Garth Burnside of the Michigan State Police will also be a part of the World Games festivities, taking part in the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg. Inspector Burnside is one of 84 Law Enforcement members throughout the world selected to help carry the Flame of Hope through cities, towns and communities across Austria before arriving with the Flame at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games Opening Ceremony on Saturday, March 18.

Every two years, the world transcends the boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, culture and religion to come together for the Special Olympics World Games. Alternating between summer and winter Games, this event is the flagship event of the Special Olympics movement, which promotes equality, tolerance and acceptance around the world.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these athletes to demonstrate their athletic abilities, competing at the highest level on the world stage, and to have life and cultural experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives," said Chris Hahn, Head of Delegation for Special Olympics USA. "I encourage every American to cheer on these inspiring athletes, to share in their triumphs and to take pride in knowing that they will represent our country with excellence and honor."

This is expected to be the largest Special Olympics World Winter Games in history. An estimated 2,600 athletes from 106 nations will compete in 9 Olympic-type sports at the 2017 Special Olympics World Games: Floorball, Floor Hockey, Stick Shooting, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Alpine Skiing, Snowboarding, Nordic Skiing (Cross-Country Skiing) and Snowshoeing.

Serving as the Premier Sponsor of the team is Bank of America. “Our support of Special Olympics reflects our belief that diverse and inclusive communities are stronger communities,” said Bank of America Vice Chairman Anne Finucane. "We look forward to cheering on the men and women competing as part of Special Olympics USA."

ESPN's global television networks and digital media will bring extensive coverage to sports fans and supporters of the Special Olympics movement around the world. ESPN's coverage, from March 18-25, marks the first-ever global coverage for a World Winter Games event.

As an official broadcaster of the Special Olympics World Winter Games, ESPN’s television coverage will be carried across its networks in the U.S. as well as streamed through WatchESPN and the ESPN App.