AREA ATHLETICS: Creating history

Marshall resident Kari Groebner, Team Minnesota become first women’s 3-on-3 basketball team to compete in the Special Olympic Games, earn silver medal

Photo courtesy of Rick Gewerth Marshall’s Kari Groebner (13) and her Team Minnesota teammates pose for a photo with their silver medals at the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando on June 11.

MARSHALL — Kari Groebner started playing basketball because, in her words, “I’m good at it”. Her teammates are pretty good, too and together, they were able to create some history.

The 34-year-old Groebner, who was born in Slayton and lives in Marshall, was a member of Team Minnesota that recently competed in the 3-on-3 half-court competition in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games on June 6 in Orlando. Not only did they earn a runner-up finish out of 11 teams and get a silver medal, they made history in the process by becoming Team Minnesota’s first women’s 3-on-3 basketball team to compete in the Special Olympic Games. There were also more than 150 athletes out of the state of Minnesota competing in various events for the Games.

“It’s a great honor to represent Minnesota in basketball at USA Games. It means so much to me to show my skills in basketball and to show good sportsmanship,” Groebner said. “I can’t wait to meet new friends from all over and make lifelong memories. Go Team Minnesota!”

In addition to her silver medal, Groebner also competed in the state competition in June in Minneapolis and nabbed a gold medal in the skills competition going up against two other people.

Groebner has been an athlete with Special Olympics Minnesota for more than 26 years and has participated in multiple sports over the years such as basketball, bowling, bocce and track and field. In 2014, Grobner won two gold medals and a silver medal in bowling at the USA Games event held in New Jersey. This year, although their team made it to the Games, Groebner advocated a deeper purpose on who the team was representing, which was Michelle Avlord. Avlord was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t attend the games with her team but she cheered them on and communicated with them daily. Ultimately, Avlord died earlier in June. In the opening ceremonies, she was honored at the Games. 

“Both Minnesota half-court teams played hard for Michelle since she couldn’t be with us although she was able to cheer us on back home and videochat us a lot,” Groebner said. “Sadly she passed away from her battle of cancer yesterday (June 22) but she was able to receive her gold medal and other fun stuff from our trip. They did a special honor at the opening ceremonies for Michelle while Team Minnesota walked in.”

In order to be a part of the competition, Groebner needed to raise money. She set an initial donation goal of $1,250, but ended up raising $1,636. She broke down the reason of her needing to do a fundraiser and how enjoyable it is to do so.

“I started fundraising in January of this year,” Groebner said. “Each team member had a goal of $500 dollars but I like to fundraise so I upped it to $1250. I was able to win prizes like headphones and Twins tickets because I was in the Top 10.”

Family was also something Groebner talked about, adding that her mother Donna Groebner and sister Amy Gewerth have had an impact in her life because they’ve always supported her no matter what and encourage her to try her best.

The rewards from being in the Olympics are endless by winning medals, gaining new friends and most of all doing something you love to do unconditionally. It is a reminder that limitations don’t stop you from achieving goals if it is something you believe you can do. Groebner and her teammates have opened a pathway for more and more Special Olympic athletes to follow in her footsteps in the incumbent years to compete at the Games and achieve the same goals that she did. Groebner wants to attend the next games and continue being a pillar for the next generation of athletes to come along to participate.


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