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Power of Determination | East TN athletes prepare for Special Olympics USA Games

5,500 athletes from all 50 states and the Caribbean will compete in Orlando. Team Tennessee includes 100 athletes and unified athletes participating in 12 sports.

HALLS, Tenn. — When the bar is loaded Johnny Kelly is in the zone.

The Gibbs High School graduate has been building strength for the past two years practicing his powerlifting three times a week, ramping up his cardio, and perfecting his total.

"For bench press, I could barely even get the bar up in high school, and now I can get 135 as my max," Kelly said.

Joel Wortham has been by Johnny's side at the YMCA in Halls helping him with his workouts and adjusting his technique.

"It is very impressive," he said.

The two got to know each other through Special Olympics at Gibbs High School.

Wortham helped Kelly with football and Kelly helped Joel with volleyball.

Credit: Heather Waliga
Kelly and his teammates pose for a picture.

"I was always very competitive growing up, and I'm still pretty competitive now, but I think Special Olympics kind of humbled me, and just let me enjoy the sport more than trying to beat the other person," Wortham said. 

Kelly has competed and excelled in several sports throughout the years from the football field to the ski slopes, but now he is preparing for his biggest competition yet after he qualified for the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando in June.

Credit: Heather Waliga
Kelly gives a high five.

"I couldn't believe it!" Kelly smiled.

"I was very excited for him. We haven't had, at least in my time in Special Olympics at Gibbs, we hadn't had anybody go," Wortham said.

100 athletes from around the country will participate in 10 powerlifting events during the summer games.

Only a handful of athletes from Tennessee were selected to compete in select categories.

RELATED: Going for Gold | Gibbs High student training for gold at Special Olympics USA Games

As the summer games approach Kelly is working on his goals with his deadlift and his bench press.

"I just want to basically want to get stronger and stronger with it so as long as I'm progressing," he said.

He is focused not just on the weight of this moment but on how the competition makes him feel.

"Just go in there and do you," Kelly smiled.

Click here to learn more about how you can support Special Olympics athletes.

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