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Simply the Best
Local Golfer Captures Gold, Friendships at Special Olympics World Games
At the June 24th opening ceremonies for the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, golfer Mistee Best proudly shouted out the motto of the global athletic organization along with 7,500 other athletes from 185 countries.
“Let me win! But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," she exclaimed. And for Mistee, the dream of winning did come true; she returned to her Avon, NY home on July 7th, having earned a gold medal for team play. But for the 31-year-old elite athlete, it was new friendships, not medals, that were truly as good as gold.
"Sure, it felt good to win, but winning wasn't the best part," Mistee explains. "What I liked most was meeting new people from different countries. We exchanged shirts and pins with people from all over the world. I think that I got the most pins of anyone."
Mistee was among 37 golfers on Team USA, after earning her spot based on her performance at local and state levels of competition. In Athens, she captured her gold medal in the Level 2 Alternate Shot Team Play category, in which an athlete competes alongside their Unified Partner, with both golfers playing nine holes, taking turns hitting the ball. Mistee's Unified Partner was Martha Pachuta, of Perry, NY, an educator at Genesee Valley Educational Partnership who has been Mistee's Special Olympics coach for many years.
Mistee and Martha found themselves in direct competition with teams from Austria, Hong Kong, and Russia. The language barriers forced them to adjust their style slightly, both on and off the course.
"We used a lot of hand gestures to communicate, and we spoke slowly," Mistee explains. "Fortunately, our two caddies from Greece could speak English a lot better than most of the people. They were awesome."
In fact, they were “awesome" enough to help land Mistee and Martha in winners' circle at the Games' conclusion. At the podium, Mistee stood alongside competitors from Sweden and Norway, who scored silver and bronze medals, respectively. Mistee's sister, Carrianne Coyne, her husband, Robert, and Mistee's 19-month-old niece, Abby, were on hand as Mistee was presented with her medal.
"I have to say my most memorable moment is after Mistee stepped off the podium after receiving her gold medal," Carianne says. "My daughter ran up into her arms and the Special Olympics photographers started surrounding the two of them and took what seemed like a hundred pictures. That was my proudest moment, both as a mom and a sister. Mistee has always been very close to my daughter, and I could see the love they continue to have for each other."
Also close to Mistee's heart is her best friend, fellow Special Olympian Eric Byrd, of Geneseo, NY. Eric earned two gold medals for swimming at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games. Shortly thereafter, he was involved in a life-changing car accident, but has since returned to the worlds of golfing and swimming. Mistee describes her friend as a "true inspiration,” a compliment that Eric happily reciprocates.
"I'm really glad, and proud of Mistee for winning the gold medal," Eric says. "To Mistee, I say 'Fabuloso'!"
Looking back at her whirlwind trip, Mistee describes Athens as "beautiful and wonderful place," but admits that some of the customs were, well, Greek to her.
"There was no place to get a burger," Mistee says, chuckling. This, from a woman who knows a thing or two about burgers; for years, Mistee has worked at the McDonald's restaurant located near the LeRoy exit of the New York State Thruway, as part of the supported employment program at Hilltop Industries, the vocational division of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. Before that, she studied food service at Genesee Valley Educational Partnership when it was known as BOCES, which is where she and Martha met.
Mistee continues, "The gyros were really good at this little restaurant by the hotel where we stayed, but other than that, I didn't like the food. In Athens, they eat lunch meat in the morning and pasta for lunch and dinner."
On a more serious note, she points out that increased police presence was needed to protect athletes from riots taking place in Athens, but says that she'd rather focus her memories on the beauty of the city.
"The Acropolis was awesome, with cool stores and restaurants," Mistee says. "You can see the whole city of Athens and the mountains from there. I would go back again in a minute."
"I made lots of friends, but the culture and the atmosphere were just very different than in the United States," Mistee concludes. "As an example, some people sleep on the roofs of their houses because it's cooler up there. I guess that's why they know so much about the stars."