MARSHALL – Two local athletes and two coaches are heading to New Jersey next week to compete in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games. Team Minnesota has 85 athletes, coaches and unified partners participating in the national games in Princeton, N.J.

Kari Groebner will be competing in bowling with female bowling coach Deb Picht and Marissa Davis will be competing in numerous swim events with aquatics coach Marilyn Strate.

“We are so excited,” coach Picht said. “It’s the chance of a lifetime.”

“As far as the state’s records show, this is the first time that anyone from the Marshall area has gone to the national games,” Strate said.

3,500 athletes will compete in 16 different sports at the USA Games, which will kick-off Sunday June 16 with the opening ceremonies, parade of athletes and the lighting of the torch.

To qualify for the national USA Games, the athletes had to receive a first-place medal at state, send in an application and submit three letters of recommendation. Coaches also had to go through an application and recommendation process. Following the application process, the vice president of Sports & Education for Special Olympics Minnesota, Pam Bergerson, came from the Twin Cities to interview each athlete and coach.

“We go to the Cities next Friday, fly out Saturday and return June 21,” Picht said.

The athletes’ families are also making the trip to support Team Minnesota.

“My mom, sister and my sister’s boyfriend are driving 18 hours to get there,” Groebner said. Davis’ parents, Joan and Terry, will also be in New Jersey to cheer their daughter on.

But the games are not just about the competition, as the Special Olympics offers many activities and experiences for athletes and coaches in their downtime.

“We get to go on a three-hour cruise, visit the Olympic town, a healthy athletes fair and see a baseball game,” Groebner said. They will be attending a Trenton Thunder game (the AA affiliate of the New York Yankees). “But I’m a Twins fan, so I’m not sure who I will root for yet,” Groebner added.

Groebner, who grew up in Slayton, started bowling when she was four and began participating in the Special Olympics when she was eight.

“My mom bowled, so that’s what got me interested in the sport,” Groebner said. “My highest game so far is a 219.”

She will be part of an eight person team, four men and four women, that will compete in singles, doubles (male, female and mixed) and team bowling (4-person male, female and mixed). Groebner will be bowling 12 games during the four-day competition.

“We went to Owatonna once a month to meet the team and practice,” Picht said. “It’s going to be very exciting. We get to spend a week with our Minnesota bowling family.”

“It’s like I gained three sisters,” Groebner said.

Davis, a Marshall native, will be competing in five swim events: the 25-yard and 50-yard Freestyle, 25-yard and 50-yard backstroke and a 4 x 50-yard freestyle relay. Strate said this is Davis’ fourth year swimming and that they have been practicing for the past six months.

“Marissa has really been improving, she has gotten 10 seconds faster this year,” she said.

Davis competed in a swim meet last weekend in Albany and came away with great times, Strate said. She finished the 25-yard backstroke in 28.78 seconds, the 50-yard freestyle in 101.08 seconds and the 50-yard backstroke in 103.69 seconds.

“Freestyle is my favorite,” Davis said. “But my gold medal was in the backstroke.”

Groebner and Davis said they are excited for the extra activities like the cruise and the baseball game, as well as getting to hang out with their teammates.

“We are all so close, we are like family,” Picht said. “We have a fun group and they really click.”