BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) — It takes practice, skill and heart to be an Olympic athlete.
Bluffton now has two headed to the Special Olympics USA Games next week that have dealt with their own challenges, nothing to do with sports.
They are now not just surviving, but thriving.
“Very nice. Very nice. I like that smile.”
Matt Mackinac’s coaching staff is all about correction and positive reinforcement while he is on his horse.
Matt and Abby Beall are taking on more practice day at the Heroes on Horseback training facility in Bluffton before going to Aiken and then Orlando for the USA Games next week. They will be two of seven from the Lowcountry and two of just 150 top athletes from the Palmetto State
While they enjoy their time on horseback, behind those smiles is determination of an athlete.
“They love it and being able to manage a large creature like this is very empowering,” said Laura Kinsey, Heroes on Horseback Director.
This is a competition about making those beautiful animals move through poles, go on trail rides with specific obstacles, making the horses stop and start when they want.
It’s control that according to their cheering section full of family, these athletes take from the ring into real life.
“It helps her with her sense of accomplishment,” says Debbie Beall, Abby’s Mom: “If I can do this, I can do that.”
“Its not about winning its about doing the best and its also about the competition and the enjoyment and the fun,” said Dan Mickinac, Matt’s father.
“We have been on the side fence for 10 years watching her learn and get experience,” says Debbie. “Watching her learn and get experience from coaches and having the discipline and the commitment to come out here no matter what the weather is, no matter what is going on its in her heart to want to do it.”
They both will need a big heart and skill to take home the gold at next week’s USA games, facing off with 100 or more fellow athletes in the first-ever Equestrian competition.
The pair will ride different horses than they are used to, on a different track, in an unfamiliar place.
While they want to win, just getting there, and going to Disney after they say, is worth every second.
“When they interviewed Matt for the equestrian spot,” remembers his father Dan. “They asked, if you won a gold medal or came in first how would you feel? He said I would feel good. And what if you came in 8th? I would feel good. He just wants to compete and have fun”
“What’s going to be your favorite part?’
“Everything,” smiles Abby.
“You like the horse. you like being up there?”
“Yeah,” said Matt.
“Because he makes me happy.”
The Games start Sunday, June 5 with the Opening ceremonies. Matt and Abby will begin their competitions Monday.
The pair credit Heroes on Horseback, a non-profit agency designed to help people who are disabled or with special needs by “providing them with equine assisted activities and therapy in an effective compassionate environment”.
If you would like to participate, volunteer or learn more,