Michelle Zhang is no stranger to winning.

At only 16, Zhang has had her fair share of athletic achievements — she has competed in the Special Olympics four times; won gold medals for slalom skiing in the regional Special Olympics in 2017 and 2018; made the varsity tennis team as a sophomore at Monarch High School; and was named the Special Olympics Colorado Athlete of the Month in March of this year.

Coach Gonzo Garcia, left, with athlete Michelle Zhang. Garcia has been working with Zhang to train for this year’s 2022 Special Olympic USA Games in Orlando. (Courtesy photo)

Now, Zhang has been invited back to compete in the Special Olympics — this time, at the national level in tennis. Zhang was among the two women chosen to represent the state of Colorado at the 2022 USA Special Olympics, taking place this week in Orlando.

Zhang will play doubles tennis alongside fellow Coloradan Andie Zitek, as well as singles tennis against top athletes from other states and Caribbean countries.

Though Zhang is excited to play tennis, she says she’s very excited about visiting Walt Disney World.

“I’m excited to explore the new places. I’ve been going to Orlando since I was around 7 and the resorts there are so fun — my favorite place was Magic Kingdom.”

Earlier this year, Zhang began working with coach Gonzo Garcia, owner of Gonzo Tennis Academy in Boulder, and together they began to train for the Special Olympic competition. Garcia joined on a call with Zhang to talk about training for the competition.

“Focus Michelle — it’s not a Disney trip!” Joked Garcia. “Remember that it’s about the tennis!”

Back in February, Garcia had a party at the Longmont Athletic Club to raise money for Zhang’s training and equipment, as well as money for her family to travel to Orlando.

Garcia had set out to raise $1,800 in total for the trip. However, the event ended up raising more than double that goal. Zhang’s sister and extended family will be flying from California to Florida to cheer Zhang on.

Unfortunately, Garcia is unable to join Zhang in Orlando, but he is excited to watch her compete from afar.

“It’s going to be such an incredible experience for her,” Garcia said. “And if I can’t make it to Orlando this year, it’s not a big deal. I’ll just go next time she makes it to nationals.”

Zhang said she’s also looking forward to meeting new people and other athletes at the competition as well as playing alongside teammate Zitek, who hails from Denver.

“For me, I prefer doubles because there isn’t as much running involved. My favorite thing to do is volley at the net,” Zhang said.

Lingling Liu, Zhang’s mother, said she and her family couldn’t be more proud.

“Michelle is very persistent. She never gives up — even when things are difficult, or if there is bad weather, no matter what — she will continue to do it.”

To follow along with Zhang and watch her compete at the Special Olympics USA games, tune in to KMGH/Denver7 on June 12. Coverage of the games will air in full from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., or visit  ustanationalcampus.com/en/home/watch.html to watch a live stream of the competition.

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Ella Cobb
2022-06-07 02:40:29
Boulder Daily Camera
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