Haley McDaniel shares her experience in Abu Dhabi at the Special Olympics World Games.
By Kaiti Evans, Photos by Marco Canti
Playing tennis in various locations throughout the world was not enough for athlete Haley McDaniel. McDaniel has medals from tournaments in Syria and Chile, but she had her eyes set on a bigger goal: the Special Olympics World Games. In March, she achieved her dream and placed third in mixed doubles with her partner, Andre Crout, earning a bronze medal.
The largest sporting event that highlights athletes with intellectual disabilities, the Special Olympics World Games are held biennially, with the 2019 games hosted in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This year, 215 athletes represented the U.S.
McDaniel says she enjoyed her time on the court, but her favorite World Games moment came when she was onstage receiving her medal in front of thousands of people.
“My favorite part is the ceremonies,” McDaniel says. “I got to play against other countries. We find partners, coaches around the world. I went to Abu Dhabi and had a great time and adventures. There were lots of sports played by different athletes.”
McDaniel’s mother, Kimberly Cates, says she is proud of her daughter for all she has accomplished and she loves how many people attended the Special Olympics World Games to support her child and her friends.
“Half a million people were there, and it was said to be the largest humanitarian event of 2019,” Cates says, noting there were “7,500 athletes and unified partners, and I think there were 2,000 volunteers. I had never experienced anything like that, and I wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for her hard work.”
McDaniel says her team is one of the most important parts of her success. Working alongside her tennis partner, her coaches and her mom paved the way for her global success. It also didn’t hurt to have her boyfriend compete at the World Games too.
“We stay together,” McDaniel says. “It’s a team effort and we work hard. … I had a great time and my tennis team got together and we all made new friends from other teams. My boyfriend, William, does golf at the Special Olympics. He was at World Games too.”
McDaniel worked hard for her medal, but while in Abu Dhabi she also got to have fun with her team. Whether it was exploring the city or riding camels, McDaniel had a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I went to camel riding,” McDaniel says. “I was scared and nervous and by myself, and then my favorite part was when I did sandboarding. Going uphill was a struggle. We had to go up and then slide down the hill.”
Though McDaniel competes in doubles tennis, she participates in a multitude of other sports. She never backs down from a challenge and continues to work toward her physical goals. According to Cates, McDaniel’s dead-lift record is 200 pounds.
“I love my life and the Special Olympics,” McDaniel says. “I have competed in a lot of sports in my life. I’ve competed in basketball, gymnastics, bowling, power lifting and tennis.”
According to Cates, McDaniel was the only Austinite at the Special Olympics World Games. She loves the impact her daughter has made in Austin and can’t wait to see what she does next.
“She’s the only one from Austin,” Cates says. “She’s an Austinite. She was born and raised here, and everyone knows her in the community, and I just feel like she’s just made great strides and has accomplished so much.”
As McDaniel checks “become a world champion” off her to-do list, she is already moving on to other goals. Currently, she wants to begin modeling and is considering going to culinary school. If a World Games medal proves anything, it is that a girl with a big dream can achieve anything.