Special Olympics World Games Global Messenger and athlete Caley Versfelt proves that teamwork and kindness extend far beyond athletics.
- Written byJennie Nunn
Manhattan Beach resident Caley Versfelt, Special Olympics World Games Global Messenger, isn’t exactly your everyday athlete. Just about everything about the 24-year-old who has Down syndrome is unique, even down to the way she was born.
“Caley was born in the driveway,” says her mother, Shail, recalling Caley’s quick birth en route to the hospital on June 12, 1991 during a Lakers playoff game. “It was very fast, and her dad delivered her in the van. I wasn’t even in the car for 60 seconds, and the car engine wasn’t even on yet.”
Throughout her childhood, Caley took up swimming, a sport inspired by her father, and won her first medal at the Special Olympics when she was just 9 years old. “My dad used to be on the swim team when he was high school, and he motivated me to be on the swim team,” explains Caley, who trains every Sunday at Plunge in Torrance and also plays basketball, volleyball and tennis.
“We’re a boating family, and she’s always been on the water—so it was natural for her,” adds Shail.
All grown up, the Mira Costa High School graduate and UCLA Pathways Generation Next graduate (a one-year intensive program where she lived in an apartment off-campus and learned independent living skills and social skills) took on the role as World Games Global Messenger 1½ years ago—and hasn’t slowed down since. One of her favorite aspects of her job this year has been public speaking and interviewing athletes and celebrities, including singer Hunter Hayes, Dodgers player Justin Turner and Maria Shriver on the red carpet.
She’s even won the Sundown Voice award for her work at Jim Morse Golf. “It makes me happy,” adds Caley. “It’s one of my favorite things, because I like to talk a lot, so it’s perfect.”
We caught up with the energetic athlete, who also worked as receptionist in the headquarters for the LA 2015 World Games Organizing Committee this summer (the second largest in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games) and her mom, for highlights from this year’s games, her favorite hobbies and what she’s up to now that the games have wrapped up.
In addition to sports, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
Caley Versfelt: “I’ve always wanted to be an actress since high school, and I joined the local theatre here as well. And last week, I did a commercial for the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center. And I walk a lot, and I walk to Hermosa Beach and back on The Strand. I’m also kind of a photographer … it’s something I like to do. I like to take pictures of nature, and when I get invited to a wedding, I take them there. But my favorite thing is sunsets.”
Who’s on your wish list of people to meet?
CV: “Keith Urban and Jonas Brothers. I’ve been obsessed with them since middle school, and I’ve always wanted to meet them. There’s a couple of athletes: skateboarder Tony Hawk and soccer player David Beckham. And also the Dallas Cowboys. That’s my dad’s favorite team of all time.”
Shail Versfelt: “She also wants to meet Chris Sutter, son of Los Angeles Kings coach Daryl Sutter. They call him the ‘good luck charm,’ and it would be someone fun to do things with. It’s hard to find others with Down syndrome and someone else to hang out with.”
What do you love most about Special Olympics World Games?
CV: “I think, for me, I love Special Olympics because everyone is cheering for everyone. I also love that it brings happiness and joy. Special Olympics makes me a better me, and it can make you a better you. It’s true.”
SV: “And it feels good to win, but it shows people’s abilities. And I love that it spreads acceptance and inclusion. It’s grown and expanded, and you never age out of it. You can be 80 and still competing. It’s all about inclusion. It’s been great for the whole family.”
How do you stay so positive?
CV: “My family has supported me through my life, and everyone needs to have some pride. Don’t be ashamed of what other people think of you, and we should all be treated as equals and be treated nicely. This is my favorite. I’m really positive, and I want to share to others that we should all be positive all of the time. I’m thankful for everything, and being part of my family, and I have Down syndrome.”
SV: “Caley’s proud to have Down syndrome, and she thinks it’s a gift. She says, ‘I thank God for making me this way,’ and not to be ashamed for who you really are and be open. It’s really fun to see the transition, and her attitude has changed a lot as an adult. And people have accepted her and given her the opportunity to be successful in her own way. It’s about accepting who you are and being proud of it.”
CV: “Never give up, and dream big.”
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