Local Special Olympics athletes; public officials; and even retired professional wrestler Mark Calaway, also known as "the Undertaker," gathered Dec. 8 to discuss the Special Olympics Texas 2022 Winter Games taking place Feb. 18-20 in Bee Cave.

Special Olympics Texas provides year-round sports training and competitions to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, holding over 300 competitions annually around the state. Statewide competitions are held in a different location every few years, and previous host cities include Austin, Dallas and San Marcos. Since the pandemic forced the organization to halt most operations, the 2022 Winter Games will be its first statewide event since 2020.

“The values of the Special Olympics of inclusion and welcoming all are the same values that we have in the cities of Bee Cave and Lakeway,” Lakeway Mayor Tom Kilgore said at the press conference at Bee Cave City Hall in the Hill Country Galleria. “This was one of the easiest decisions anyone could have asked any elected leader to make.”

The cities of Lakeway and Bee Cave are sponsors of the event, each contributing $100,000 in hotel occupancy tax funds to promote tourism in the area, assist with athlete travel costs and advertise for the event, according to the cities. Over 800 athletes and their families are expected to attend the event, which includes floorball, volleyball, powerlifting, cycling and golf, said Sarah Ribeiro, director of development for Special Olympics Texas.

The event also includes FUNdamental Sports, which are intended for those with physical and/or developmental disabilities who would like to train their foundational motor skills and potentially compete in official Special Olympics competitions in the future, according to the organization.

“You’re going to have thousands of folks out here being a part of Special Olympics,” Special Olympics Texas CEO Tim Martin said. “You’ll never feel so welcome, even though it’s your own home. The athletes and their families truly have a way of making you feel second to none.”

One of the athletes in attendance was Benji Garcia, an alumnus of Hendrickson High School. He is part of the Special Olympics Unified Program, an initiative pairing an individual with intellectual disabilities together with someone who does not to reach common goals. Garcia has been with his partner, Mady Zamora, for five years, but his involvement with the Special Olympics trails back to his training with the Pflugerville ISD Falcons soccer team when he was 7 years old. Garcia and Zamora are also part of Team Texas for the 2022 USA Special Olympic Games.

“Doing Unified sports has given me the opportunity to make incredible and long-lasting friendships,” Garcia said. “I still have friends who have graduated from Hendrickson. The Unified movement has made me feel included in many aspects.”

For residents looking to get involved with the Special Olympics, the organization has a variety of volunteer positions available for both the day of the competition and with communications, fundraising, outreach and more. Those interested can contact the area office for more information on how to participate.

"When I was told the Special Olympics wanted to come to Bee Cave, it moved a place in my heart, not only as a mom and a teacher, but what an honor for our city," Bee Cave Mayor Kara King said. “In Bee Cave, we try so hard to bring something special for every person, and the Special Olympics compliments that philosophy, being able to provide something for all ages and all abilities."