by Scott DCamp
Thief River Falls native Kayla Possai is a Special Olympics World Games participant in the sport of swimming. Kayla left the country last week for the weeklong event that will be held in AbuDhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 14-21.
Kayla is the daughter of Kurt and Kathleen Possai of Thief River Falls. She swam for the Prowlers for four years, 2012-15, while she was in grades seven through 10, before finishing her high school career as a swimmer on the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks team during her final two years of high school in 2016 and 2017.
According to her mother, Kayla is autistic and she has difficulties learning. Kathleen said Thief River Falls is a place where her daughter was always accepted, loved and encouraged.
“We have met so many other parents of special needs kids that talk of how their kids experienced bullying and discrimination during school, but that was never the case for Kayla,” said Kathleen, who along with her husband moved back to Thief River Falls last summer. “She was always accepted in TRF and we have always considered ourselves fortunate to be part of such a wonderful community.”
After graduating from high school, Kayla enrolled at Minnesota Independence College & Community in Richfield. MICC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit vocational and life skills training program for young adults with learning differences and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The college helps its students make successful transitions towards independent living and financial self-sufficiency. Students learn in their own apartments, at the grocery store, in the workplace, at restaurants, and on public transportation—any practical environment where life skills are needed.
Kayla is in the college’s hospitality program. It has students learning in a variety of settings from hotels and restaurants, to venues like Target Field and movie theaters. On top of her fulltime class schedule, she swims four days a week to prepare for the Special Olympics World Games.
In the World Games, she will swim the 100 and 200-meter freestyle races, the 100 meter breaststroke and the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. She practices at an area YMCA pool and her coach works with her on breaststroke techniques, her kicking and stretching out so she can pull in her strokes.
“My goals are to get a gold, work hard and have fun,” Kayla said. She considers the breaststroke her best event.
Kayla left Minnesota on Wednesday, March 6 to join more than 300 team members of Special Olympics USA for send-off festivities in Newark, N.J. on March 6-7. Opening ceremonies for the week-long event are Thursday, March 14.
Kayla’s schedule begins with the 200 meter freestyle event on Sunday, March 17. Her other races include the 4×100 meter freestyle relay on Monday, March 18; the 100 meter freestyle on Tuesday, March 19; and the 100 meter breaststroke on Wednesday, March 20.
The Special Olympics 2019 World Games marks the first time the World Games has been held in an Arab country, and the United Arab Emirates hopes to spread tolerance and acceptance to other Arab countries through this event.