Power lifter Ralph Slattery traveled to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates to compete in the March 14-21 2019 Special Olympics World Games.
Slattery says he brought back four bronze medals from the competition. One bronze was for his 198-pound effort in the squats competition, the second was for his 145-pound bench press result and a third was for the 285-pound dead lift he completed.
He received a fourth bronze for his combined total weight of 628.3 pounds in the power lifting competition.
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Slattery said he traveled to Abu Dhabi with two other Wyoming competitors, Riverton’s Sara Dockham and Pinedale’s Melanie Holmes.
Special Olympics Wyoming Vice President of Programs Reagan Diller said that Dockham won gold in the 400 meter track and field event, gold in the 4×100 relay race and bronze in the 200 meter race.
He said that Holmes took home bronze in the 10K cycling road race and won a participation ribbon in the triathlon.
“We are so proud of the three athletes, not only for how they represented our nation, but for how they represented Wyoming,” Diller said. “They did us proud across the ocean.”
Slattery said he spent a year training with Kelly Walsh High School coach Bart Stricklin preparing for the World Games.
“We trained an entire year twice a week,” Slattery said. “I want to thank Bart Stricklin for sticking with me for a year of training.”
Slattery explained that athletes can get the chance to go to the Special Olympics World Games if they win gold in their state competition. Once the national Special Olympics determines the number of athletes from each state they would like to send to the World Games, names are drawn from a hat of the state’s gold medalists.
Slattery said that he’s had a lot of media exposure since being nominated for the national Special Olympics team.
“Ever since I took that nomination, there have been cameras in my face,” he said.
He traveled to Delaware for a training camp in September of 2018 to prepare for the World Games.
“315 athletes from across the U.S. gathered for training,” Slattery said. “That was the first time I met my eight teammates and three coaches.”
Slattery said that he had to raise $7,000 in order to travel to the World Games, something he did via a GoFundMe page. He said that his cousin, Shani Burke Specht of Connecticut, also traveled with him to Abu Dhabi.
When they went to Abu Dhabi, Slattery says the Special Olympics team stayed at a downtown Marriott.
“We did a lot of site-seeing,” he said. “We went to two amusement parks, they closed them down for us.”
“The architecture of the buildings is incredible.”
Slattery says he made the mistake of going on a dragon-themed roller coaster.
“It was going too fast and I just didn’t like it,” he said. “The Ghostbuster one was slower, that one I liked.”
He added that something interesting happened as a result of his teammate Garrett Ford losing his cellphone.
“An American woman found his phone and said she’d bring it on opening day,” Slattery said. “It was Vice President [Mike] Pence’s wife. That was the highlight of my day, on Garrett Ford’s nickel.”
He added that the opening and closing ceremonies took place in a stadium “bigger than the Broncos stadium.”
“There were 541,000 people there that night,” Slattery said. “I can tell you that when you’re there in person, it is so much better than on television.”
He added that the 12 hours in a car and 33 hours in the air that he spent round-trip was worth it. The 315 American athletes brought home 203 medals, Slattery said, including 22 golds, 61 silvers and 70 bronzes.
“Overall it was a great trip,” he said.
Slattery added that he plans to display his medals at home.
“A friend of mine is going to build a shadow box to put them in,” he said. “That’s a narrow box that hangs on the wall, not very deep.”
He said he will continue to train with Stricklin and added that his goals now are to accomplish a 200-pound squat, a 300-pound dead lift and a 175-pound bench press.
Slattery added that he and his brother Rodney have been involved with Speical Olympics since they were 9 years old. Slattery, who is now 40, said that he only started power lifting when he was 35.
“Everybody that knew me all the way through high school couldn’t hardly believe it,” he said. “In my first two years at high school I didn’t know where the weight room was.”
He said that one of the reasons he chose power lifting was because he and his brother are very competitive, and he wanted to participate in an event where they wouldn’t be going against each other.
“Both of us are really known in Special Olympics,” he said, adding that they’ve both done basketball, skiing, bowling and biking in the past.
Once he heard about power lifting, he thought that was the right fit.
“I heard it through the grape vine there’s a sport called power lifting and I wanted to do it,” Slattery said. “I like power lifting because it is a summer sport so you don’t have to worry about driving in the winter too much.”
Slattery said that right now, he’s focused on the Special Olympics Wyoming Summer Games. Diller said those will take place June 9-11 in Laramie.
“We’re in full-blown training for the state games,” Slattery said.
He added that the next World Games will be in Germany in 2023.