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January 22, 2013

Cooley, Torbert heading to South Korea for Special Olympic Games

MOULTRIE — Sissy Cooley and Tara Torbert are about to begin a journey that few Colquitt countians can say they have made.

Cooley, 15 and a student at Charlie A. Gray Junior High, and Torbert, a special education teacher at Willie J. Williams Middle School, are members of Team Georgia heading to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for next week’s Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Cooley will compete in the 111-meter, 222-meter and 333-meter short track speed skating event.

Torbert is one of the team’s assistant coaches.

Both will taking what is likely to be a trip of a lifetime.

They are heading to Atlanta today, where they will meet another team member from Henry County and then will fly to Los Angeles on Thursday where the full U.S. team will meet.

A sendoff ceremony will be held there for Team Georgia before it leaves Friday on a 12-hour, 45-minute flight to Seoul, South Korea.

The Georgia contingent will spend several guys sightseeing and learning about the country before competition begins next Tuesday.

Team Georgia also will have lunch with the U.S. Ambassador, Sung Kim.

The 10th Special Olympic World Winter Games will run through Feb. 5.

It is expected to be one of the largest winter multisport events ever held in South Korea.

Some 3,300 participants, including 2,300 athletes, from 120 countries will compete in 55 events in seven sports, including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, speed skating, figure skating and floor hockey.

Team USA will include some 200 athletes.

Cooley, who has been involved in Special Olympics for six years, said she is looking forward to competing in South Korea.

“I’m somewhat nervous,” she said. “Also, I feel anxious and excited. I’m excited to meet with others of different culture.”

Cooley was nominated for Team USA by the Colquitt County Special Olympics and was selected for the team.

The other team member is a snow skier from Georgia is from Henry County.

Cooley competes in speed skating once a year at Southeast Regional competition, held last year in North Carolina.

In December, she spent five days training in Lake Placid, N.Y., with Team Georgia’s other 10 speed skaters. Training included practice at the rink where the 1980 USA hockey team defeated the Soviets en route to Olympic gold medal.

The athletes also received “dryland” training.

The Lake Placid training allowed coaches to evaluate their athletes and make sure they are in the correct events.

Cooley has prepared for competitions the last several years by rollerblading and training on roller skates and occasional trips to Atlanta to get on the ice.

Torbert has been working with the local Special Olympics program for 11 years, coaching bocce, basketball skills, figure skating and speed skating. She also helps with the equestrian program.

"It's an honor to be a part of it," she says of the opportunity to travel to South Korea and be a coach on Team Georgia.

She certainly has experience as a mother of a son with an intellectual disability, as a special education teacher and as a Special Olympics coach.

And she can't heap enough praise on the Special Olympics program.

"I see what it does for their confidence and their social skills," she says. "It gives them a chance to be in an environment where they are accepted for what they are."

Special Olympics has outfitted all athletes and officials of Team Georgia with all the clothing they will need while representing the U.S. in Korea.

"We'll all be wearing the same clothes," she said.

And they will get to keep their apparel as mementoes of their trip representing their country,

Last week, Team Georgia traveled to Atlanta where team members were honored at a send-off reception as they prepare for what is expected to be memorable trip.

Cooley is in elite company. In 2005, Colquitt County was represented on Team Georgia by Shane Slater and Darryl Burks, who competed in Nagano, Japan.

“And when I see them today, they still talk about it,” Torbert says. “It had such an impact on them.”

Slater brought back a gold medal in the 500-meter speed skating event.

Results and photos from Pyeongchang will be available at


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