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Lebanon teen on the road to gold

By Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated May 16, 2014 at 9:40 PM

This year, a Lebanon girl will represent Wilson County at the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey.

Whitney Lackey, 17, who was diagnosed with rare tuberous sclerosis complex at Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital when she was 2 months old, is set to compete at the Tennessee Special Olympics State Games this weekend in Nashville, as well as represent Tennessee at the national Special Olympics USA Games in June.

TSC is an uncommon, multisystem genetic disease that causes different resulting disorders and symptoms like seizures, cognitive disabilities, behavior problems and potentially life-threatening tumors in vital organs; and in Whitney’s case, that includes cognitive delays and tumors growing in both kidneys. She is one of the estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. living with TSC, which is the leading cause of autism and epilepsy.

Whitney’s parents, Sharon and Brent Lackey, said after they found out the diagnosis, they were scared and confused.

“We will always remember the day Whitney was diagnosed with TSC,” Brent Lackey said. “We were scared because we had never heard of the disease before, and we had so many questions and weren’t sure where to turn for support.” 

They said the family then moved to Lebanon when Whitney was 7 years old so she could enroll in a special education program at school to provide a better learning environment to help her succeed. The family also currently stays involved in the TSC community and works to raise awareness of the rare disease.

This month also happens to be International TSC Awareness Month, and Thursday was Global TSC Awareness Day.

So, just in time to celebrate and support the disease she’s living with, Whitney is gearing up to attend the Tennessee Special Olympics State Games Friday and Saturday at Lipscomb University. 

Sharon Lackey said Whitney is very active and loves the outdoors and all sports, including basketball, baseball, swimming, bowling and bocce. 

According to her mother, Whitney previously attended the state games last year for bocce, which is how she qualified to go to nationals this year. Athletes compete in local events prior to the state and national games in order to qualify and also must meet other guidelines and criteria. There are also a limited number of slots each coach can take within each sport category.

“She made state last year in bocce, which is how she got drawn for nationals this year,” Sharon said.

Though the Special Olympics also offer sports like swimming and basketball, Sharon Lackey said Whitney would just be competing in bocce this year at the state and national events.

Bocce is a sport similar to bowling, but balls are thrown and the sport is done outdoors on grass, or sometimes on sand.

According to Sharon Lackey, getting Whitney involved in the Special Olympics was no challenge at all.

“She’s always loved the outside and doing sports,” Sharon Lackey said. “She’s been playing baseball for the Challenger League, and she started playing in the Shooting Stars basketball league as soon as she was old enough.”

Sharon Lackey said five years ago, Whitney started participating in the Special Olympics in swimming, one of her favorite sports, before her coach decided to start a bocce team, too, in hopes of taking more athletes to the state games.

With the experience of having competed in the state games last year in bocce, Whitney is sure to be one of best at this weekend’s event. 

After a spring of practicing, she’ll now head to state this weekend to compete, while also continuing to ready for her journey to the USA national games in the Garden State in mid-June, which will feature athletes from all across the country competing. 

In an effort to raise awareness for the games and TSC, Whitney is one of four athletes suffering from TSC featured in a “Road to the Special Olympics” blog where the athletes, along with family, friends and coaches can post updates of their experiences.

Recently, Whitney has checked in multiple times, journaling her thoughts and preparations leading up to the big events.

“I am so excited to be competing in bocce this year. Bocce is really fun and one of my favorite sports,” Whitney said last week. “I also recently had my doctor’s appointment to check up on my TSC – and my doctor said that I am doing well, and I’m ready for the Games.”

And when nationals wrap up in late June, Sharon Lackey said Whitney still plans to continue to stay active.

“She’ll continue to do all sports; that’s just what she loves to do,” Sharon Lackey said. “Right now she’s doing something six nights a week, so we might cut back a little for the summertime.”

For more information, or to follow Whitney’s road to the games, as well as results, check tscathletes.tumblr.com.

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