By MIKE CHRISTEN / Columbia Daily Herald
Maury County’s King’s Daughters’ School and Columbia Academy are cheering for a local student as he makes his way across the Atlantic for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
Daniel DeHaan, a 22-year-old student at King’s Daughters’ School, is set to compete for the United States in the downhill and giant slalom skiing events.
“I am excited for this,” DeHann said last week as he prepared to make the journey to Europe. “I like to ski fast. This is my greatest accomplishment. I’m looking forward to fun times with friends and meeting new people.”
DeHann learned to ski from his parents near their home in Bozeman, Mont. But for the past five years, DeHann has lived as a boarding student at King’s Daughters’ School and has since competed in a number of other sports, including golf.
He is one of two athletes who will represent Tennessee in the winter games and one of 300 from the United States.
His companion, Robert Miller from Bulls Gap, will compete in the snowboarding competitions.
“I will get to go to a new place and meet new people,” Miller wrote in his athlete biography for the games. “I will get to participate in a sport that I love, and I will get to see and learn.”
The Winter World Games will be DeHaan’s first time competing outside of the United States for skiing.
“I am excited to try the food and hear the different languages,” DeHann said. “This is way cool.”
Before beginning his trip, the students at Columbia Academy cheered DeHann on Friday as he toured the school, standing on the bed of a red pickup truck. He then made another appearance at Columbia Academy’s Spring Hill campus.
The going away parade fueled the sparks of the athletes desire to out perform the competition.
“It was really happening, DeHann said of the event. “I had a good time. I know I have a lot of fans for the Austria trip. It makes me more competitive. They are proud of me for going to the World Games and I am proud too.”
DeHann will be the first student from King’s Daughters’ to compete in the Wold Games in more than a decade.
“We are very proud of Daniel,” King’s Daughters’ Executive Director David Craig said. “It’s a great opportunity for Daniel and our school to be represented in the World Games.”
Like many students from King’s Daughters’ School, DeHaan participates in the school’s Best Buddies partnership with Columbia Academy.
Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
There are more than 50 chapters of the organization in the greater Nashville area, including Columbia Academy and Columbia Central High School.
Everyday, students from Columbia Academy meet with the students from King’s Daughters’, building friendships and learning with one another through projects and activities.
For more than 20 years both schools have partnered to offer a unified physical education program and have cooperated with one another to host a regional Special Olympics Event, held annually at Spring Hill Middle School.
Coach John Kodatt spearhead’s Columbia Academy’s branch of Best Buddies and has formed a strong relationship with DeHann.
“To be honest, I think Best Buddies is one the best things we do here,” Kodatt said. “It is life changing for some of our kids and it has made a difference in their lives.”
The program was able to raise more than $4,000 to pay for DeHann’s travel expenses by selling T-shirts and encouraging students to seek donations from local businesses and friends.
“I want to say thank you very much for all they have done for me to get to the World Games,” DeHaan said of his supporters.
Kodatt said as soon as he learned that DeHann was going to the competition, he and his students started working on a plan to support him.
“Daniel is one of our favorites,” Kodatt said. “If you are having a bad day, all you need to do is spend about five minutes with him. All the kids are excited about it, and, hopefully, we will get to watch him on TV.”
For the first time, the World Winter Games will receive coverage from ESPN including live coverage of the three-hour Opening Ceremony featuring the Parade of Athletes, special guests and musical performances from multi-Grammy Award winner Jason Mraz and Grace VanderWaal. A nightly Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 program will bring viewers stories, a competition showcase, interviews and more throughout the games.