Game Changer

Meet Marnie Hornsby, 39, a multi-sport athlete and Olympian. She is the reigning silver medalist champion in Alpine Skiing earned at this year’s 2013 Special Olympics World Games held in Pyeongchang, Korea. Although Marnie has competed in a variety of sports [softball, bocce ball, equestrian, tennis and volleyball], the 2013 games were her first foray into international competition, and her first time traveling abroad. “Being in a foreign country was an interesting experience and I’m glad that I went,” she said. As you might expect from a professional athlete, Marnie comes across confident, social, and engaging as she discusses her accomplishments at the World Games. But in the not so distant past, Marnie found it difficult to come out of her shell. When asked about her journey leading up to the Special Olympics, Marnie describes it as an unhappy story – but with a pleasant ending.

Marnie has spent most of her adult life in McDonough. She was born with epilepsy, asthma, allergies and a brain disorder that spurred a learning disability. Marnie shared that it took several years to find the best treatment for her medical conditions. Those years were full of emotional stress and frustration, and left her feeling socially disconnected and misunderstood. “I used to be very distant. I didn’t feel like I fit in…and I never felt good enough for anything,” she said.

When she became involved with the Henry County Special Olympics program in 2006, a transformation began to take place. Marnie said through her Special Olympics experience, she finally figured out who she is and is no longer afraid to live life. This can-do attitude, along with the support of her parents and coaches, gave her the confidence that led to winning local medals in several sports. Last year one of her coaches encouraged her to try out for a slot on the Alpine Skiing team event. To sufficiently train for her events, she traveled to New York for a week of intensive conditioning. Marnie said of downhill skiing, “It was scary at first until I learned the proper techniques and balance.” After winning multiple gold medals at the regional level, she was selected to compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea, at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Marnie traveled to South Korea with Team USA and joined over 3,300 athletes from 120 countries. In addition to a world-class sporting event, the games also serve as a venue for global discussions on the value the games can have in the lives of people with disabilities. “You look in the eyes of some of the athletes and you think they aren’t there. But they are…the Special Olympics brings joy out of them.”

Participating in the games is an emotional and physical exhilaration. Marnie’s eyes light up as she describes the peacefulness of sliding down the snowy slope and feeling the crisp air sweeping past her face. At the end of her event she wasn’t aware she had qualified for a medal. When her name was called for the silver medal, she breaks out in a big smile. “I about fainted!” She went on to say, “I’m so grateful for my parents and coaches. Without them, I wouldn’t have won a silver medal. They were always pushing me and telling me I could do it.”

The Special Olympics was Marnie’s game changer, bringing her out of her cocoon to become a confident, carefree butterfly. Her message to other people with disabilities is simple, “Stand tall and be proud of who you are. God made you who you are for a reason.”