The victors of the Games

There is the experience and the camaraderie of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, but there are also the many stories behind the winners' smiles. We share a few of them here.

SEATTLE -- So many came to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games for the experience, memories and camaraderie, but some of the 3,000 competitors also are going to be returning home with serious hardware. Behind their winning smiles are so many stories of everyday success.

Included among these winners are an anthem singer; an athlete so popular that his high school gave him a pep rally before he left to compete; a hopeful movie director; a powerlifting tap-dancer who once performed at Carnegie Hall, and a weightlifting multiple medalist who was in a wheelchair and unable to walk as recently as six years go. Winners, all.

Parker Thornton, left, won silver in the Level 3 unified golf competition with his father, Mark. Parker has served on the Special Olympics board of directors in his home state of New Hampshire.

Steven Summerfelt Jr. came from Anne Arundel County, Maryland, to taste gold. Playing along with his father, Steven Sr., they won the Level 3 unified golf competition.

Raul Correa, 48, of Hollister, California, helped his Northern California team medal in men's basketball. He competes in three other Special Olympic sports -- and obviously supports the Giants.

Dayla Smarr, 36, took his first trip on an airplane to get to Seattle. The effort was rewarded with a gold medal for his North Carolina team in men's traditional basketball.

Kathleen Stoller, 23, flashes her silver medal in the 25-meter freestyle. From Simpsonville, South Carolina, Stoller several times has been asked to sing the National Anthem before the start of Special Olympic events.

Stacey Hawkins, 32, of Lewisville, Texas, was a force for the Texas gold medalists in women's traditional basketball.

Randy Talbot takes the bronze in the 25-meter freestyle swimming event. From Pender County, North Carolina, Talbot's Topsail High classmates held a pep rally to show their support for his efforts.

Team Texas played tenacious defense to win gold in the women's traditional basketball competition. Back row: Staci Mercer, Kimberly Corkran. Front row: Rachel Elder, Alandira Rivera, Kellie Wickett.

Shayne "Stretch" Curtiss of Groton, Connecticut, and unified athlete Rich Kent, captured gold in bowling.

Tasjenay Feigh of Minnesota shows her medal in the balance beam. Called "Tasha," she has been involved in Special Olympics for 12 years. She also won the Level 1 vault title in the 22-plus group.

Jennifer Rhein, 26, Ludlow, Kentucky, holds her silver medal from the balance beam. She's been competing in Special Olympics since 2010, but the trip to Seattle was her debut in the Special Olympics USA Games.

The patriotic Michelle Athenas, 33, of Huntington, New York, salutes America's birthday with her outfit and her medals in powerlifting. Her teammates call her their "secret weapon." She can move a lot of iron, but is light on her feet, having tap danced at Carnegie Hall in a Special Olympics fundraiser.

Michael Holland, 21, Douglasville, Georgia, is called "Tree" by his friends. He's been involved in Special Olympics since he was 7, and his mother, Ellen, was hailed as Georgia's top S.O. volunteer. Michael won bronze in the Level 3 golf competition.

With the help of his father, Todd, Andrew Johnson, 18, took a silver medal in the Level 3 unified golf competition. The Johnsons hail from Whitmire, South Carolina.

Liane Matzenbach, 26, came from The Colony, Texas, to take part in a gold-medal-winning effort against Washington in women's traditional basketball.

Tar Heel basketball excels at every level. North Carolina's medal-winning team in the men's traditional competition includes (l to r) Justin Williams, 17, Dayla Smarr, 36, Marquise Ledbetter, 23 Venson Hopper, 18, and Brian Black, 27.

Yes, that's Vermont's Kevin Conger, 18, behind those shades and showing off the gold medal in interscholastic men's basketball. A senior at Champlain Valley High, Kevin enjoys filmmaking and directs movies for YouTube.

Wyatt Bader of Hastings, Nebraska, won gold in powerlifting. Although only 15, Wyatt also competes in rodeo events.

Indiana's David Paul, 22, has reason to celebrate his powerlifting bronze medal. Six years ago he was in a wheelchair and unable to walk. The former 20-ounce premature baby is now a graduate of Milan High (think "Hoosiers") and winning medals for his impressive strength.

Kelby Woolf of Laramie, Wyoming, loaded up on bronze medals this week with his powerlifting skills. At home, Woolf works at an internship at Ivinson Memorial Hospital.

Treece Embry, 33, isn't called "Speedy" for nothing. Here's his silver medal for his efforts in the 100-meter dash. This is his third Special Olympics USA Games appearance for Team Arkansas.

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