KEARNEY — Katie Philpot, a sophomore swimmer at Kearney High School, will represent the United States in the Special Olympics World Games from March 14-21 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
She officially received the news at the end of October but knew it was a strong possibility after winning three gold medals at the Special Olympics USA Games in early July in Seattle.
“When I was interviewed by ESPN in Seattle, I was confused when they asked me about the World Games,” she said. “I was like, ‘I didn’t sign up for that.’ I heard my mom talking about it. When I got home, people were saying how I was going to Abu Dhabi. I was excited.”
Philpot will swim in the 100-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle and in a relay race in the World Games. The swimming and track and field events will be held in Dubai, while the rest of the festivities will occur in Abu Dhabi.
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Although Special Olympics Nebraska is assisting financially, Philpot is raising $3,700 through FirstGiving.com to cover the remaining expenses to attend the World Games.
Despite the cost, Philpot’s mother Keri said there wasn’t any hesitation on allowing her daughter to attend the World Games.
“We thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Keri said. “I was worried about it being so far away, but it will be an adventure.”
Philpot is a triplet. She and her siblings – sister and brother – were born at 27 weeks. She weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces at birth.
She was born with a developmental disability but it hasn’t deterred her from competitive swimming.
As a child, she enjoyed going in the pool. She started swimming lessons at 5 or 6 years old, before joining the Greater Nebraska Swim Team at age 8.
Philpot joined Special Olympics in Kearney when she was 10 or 11 and remains active in the organization, attending a weekly practice and competing in the two meets held in Nebraska each year, Keri said.
On the Kearney High swim team, Philpot had two top-four finishes in a dual with Hastings and finished 46th in a field of 58 in the 50 freestyle at the 17-team Lincoln Southeast Invitational. She was 41st in the 100 butterfly at Lincoln Southeast.
Philpot, 16, views swimming as a way of relaxation and opportunity to escape the day-to-day responsibilities of a high school student.
“I sort of turn off my mind, and I just go,” she said. “When I am having a bad day, I will turn off my brain for some time and just swim.”
Special Olympics invited Philpot to the USA Games, after watching her compete in the organization’s state meet in Omaha, Keri said.
It was the first time Philpot attended a national event, and she won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle races. Philpot also swam on the 200-meter relay team which was leading the race before being disqualified due to a swimmer’s start.
Philpot has two of her gold medals prominently displayed in her bedroom. She gave the other gold medal to her friend, Brielle, who she beat in the 50-meter freestyle.
Brielle was hesitant to take the medal but eventually did after some convincing by Philpot.
“I think Katie was disappointed that they didn’t get a gold medal in the relay and felt bad Brielle didn’t have a gold medal,” Keri said. “She asked me if I thought it was OK if she did that. I told her it was up to her but that it would be really nice.”
Besides swimming, Philpot runs cross country and track for Kearney High. Although swimming practices are “very hard and very tiring,” the World Games have kept her motivated, as she prepares to compete against athletes from around the world.
Philpot is appreciative for the opportunities Special Olympics has provided her and is eager to attend the World Games.
“The nice thing about Special Olympics is she’s met some kids and young adults in town that she didn’t know otherwise,” Keri said. “It’s been a great organization, especially for the trip to Seattle and now to Abu Dhabi. I think it’s been really great for her. We feel lucky to be a part of it.”