MEXICO — To say that Tanya Scott and Kala Emery are excited is an understatement.
The athletes were recently chosen to represent Maine and the nation on Team USA from Jan. 29 through Feb. 5 at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Scott, of Mexico, is a member of Emma’s Happy Rebels. She will compete in snowshoeing; Emery, of Lewiston, is on the Navigators and will compete in Nordic skiing.
“I’m excited because I’ve always wanted to go around the world and I’m going halfway,” said Scott, 31, a native of Rumford. “This is a big leap. I’m excited.”
Emery, 26, is a native of Bangor. “I’m very excited and my parents are excited for me,” she said.
Emery is no stranger to world travel. In 2007, she journeyed with Team USA to Beijing to compete in the Special Olympics World Summer Games.
She won first place in the 1-mile run and took third place in the 500-meter run.
To win a chance to compete in South Korea in January, both women had to place first or second in their winter sport and fill out an application, they said. Their names were drawn by Special Olympics Maine officials.
Scott said she took first place in snowshoeing last year at the Special Olympics Winter Games at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton. Emery took first and second places in Nordic skiing at the Winter Games at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley in January.
Scott and Emery will join 3,300 athletes and coaches representing 112 countries in South Korea.
Emery’s coach will be Aaron DeMillo of Jay, who was one of three Maine coaches and longtime Special Olympics volunteers chosen, according to Lisa Bird, spokeswoman for Special Olympics Maine.
The Mainers will be joined in South Korea by more than 15,000 family, friends, volunteers and spectators, Bird said.
She described Emery as “serious,” and Scott, who turns 32 the day after Christmas, as “fun-loving.”
Scott said she’s been snowshoeing and Nordic skiing at Black Mountain of Maine ski area in Rumford and Sugarloaf since she was 10.
“I’ve also been to Canada and I used to live by Canada in Jackman through middle school,” Scott said.
She didn’t remember when she started participating in Special Olympics Maine. She recalled that she suffered a brain injury in a three-wheeler accident when she was 5. That left her intellectually disabled, she said.
Emery said that she, too, is intellectually disabled and has a difficult time learning.
Both women have been training constantly for the upcoming competition. Bird said Scott has lost 30 pounds while training.
Scott said her father bought her some snowshoes for the competition. Emery said she hopes someone will help her with Nordic gear. She said she’s been practicing running at Planet Fitness gym.
Bird said that on Dec. 10, Scott and Emery will travel to Lake Placid and Albany in New York to practice with the entire Team USA at a five-day training camp.
The women said they hope to finally have snow on which to practice, since none has fallen yet in Maine. Despite that, they are quite confident in their abilities to succeed in whatever sport they attempt.
“I like all sports, but I’m good at swimming and soccer,” Emery said. “I try to do my best and I hope everybody has fun, and good luck.”
Scott took it a step further.
“I achieved a lot to get where I am right now and I’m going to do the best I can, and I’ll bring back a first-place medal,” she said.
Bird said the World Games are flagship events for the 43-year-old Special Olympics movement, designed to unleash the joy of sport in athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics athletes will travel to South Korea to compete in eight Olympic-style sports: Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, short-track speed skating, figure skating, floor hockey and floor ball demonstration.
All Team USA members will head to the East Coast on Jan. 24 for a send-off, and will depart for South Korea on Jan. 25, Bird said.
From Jan. 26-29, the team will participate in a host town program, in which they will stay with local families and learn about the culture, food and community. Opening ceremonies start on Jan. 29 and closing ceremonies will be on Feb. 5.
According to Special Olympics, the first international Special Olympics Summer Games — founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver — were held at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968, with more than 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada competing in track and field and swimming.
The next Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles in July 2015. The location of the next Special Olympics World Winter Games to be held after Korea has not been announced.