By Bud McKay, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Garrison Public AffairsJanuary 23, 2019
Brittni Wainscott may need help moving her hands, arms and even legs at times, but the smile on the 27-year-old Joint Base Lewis-McChord Tigers Special Olympics cheerleader is genuine and all her own.
Brittni is about to share her smile with a global audience as she and her Tigers teammate, Brandon Newlander, 13, will be part of the eight-member United States cheerleading team at the 2019 Special Olympics Summer World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 14 to 21.
"It's surreal Brittni is getting this opportunity -- it's like a fairy tale," said Kim Wainscott, Brittni's mom. "But we just always ask and wonder, what amazing thing will Brittni do next?"
Kim Wainscott said Brittni is nonverbal with autism and epilepsy and needs a feeding tube. It might surprise most people when they hear Brittni has completed four full marathons in her wheelchair.
"She needs and love physical activity," Kim Wainscott said. "Besides, in the marathons, she just laughs when runners trip in front of her chair."
Although Brittni is nonverbal, Brandon, who has Down syndrome, can speak, but when a local TV news crew came out to interview him, he was too busy trying to hug everyone he saw rather than take time to answer questions. This comes as no surprise to his mom, Maggie Newlander.
"(Brandon's) favorite things about the Special Olympics games are the opening ceremonies and greeting all of the teams," Maggie Newlander said. "It doesn't matter to him at all where they all come from -- it's just another opportunity for him to hug somebody and wish them good luck."
Brandon has competed in Special Olympics as an athlete -- even getting the gold in bowling at the regionals and fourth in the state games. This is just his second year on the Tigers cheerleading team.
"Going to the world games is a big thing for Brandon," Maggie Newlander said. "But this is a big thing for all of the cheerleaders going."
Since cheerleading is not an official program in Special Olympics -- yet -- the Special Olympics World Games cheerleaders will have an international exhibition competition in-between the basketball games. Special Olympics officials hope this will inspire cheerleading to become an official part of the Special Olympics program.
Like any sport with cheerleaders, the added support just helps the athletes.
"My brother plays on the Tigers basketball team, and you can see him get excited when the cheerleaders start," said Kelbie Pogoncheff, 18, the head coach of the Tigers cheerleading team. "We started out with three cheerleaders, but we're now up to 10."
Pogoncheff, who was home from college at Baylor University, in Texas, during the holidays to visit her family, started the cheer team when she was a junior at Lakes High School. She said she feels she's like a helicopter parent watching live-stream videos of the practices.
"I'm bummed I don't get to go with them to the world games," she said. "But they're more than a team -- we built a family. We all have made so many friends. But what I love most is spreading love and confidence."
Meghan Dirk, 17, a junior at Lakes High School, is one of Kelbie's friends who helps coach the Tigers cheerleading team.
"It's so rewarding to help them do things they think they can't do," Meghan said. "And now with the world games, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's so cool to be a part of that."
It's also an expensive opportunity for the cheerleaders. Although the athletes who qualified to compete at the world games have their travel and lodging arrangements paid for through Special Olympics, including the coaches and support team, the cheerleaders are on their own. That includes the coaches and chaperones who are required to travel with the cheerleaders.
According to Stacie Pogoncheff, Kelbie's mom, the Tigers have raised enough money to cover both Brittni's and Brandon's airfare and lodging, but they are about $3,000 away from meeting the minimum to cover the rest.
Pinot's Palette, in Puyallup, is having a paint and sip event in support of Brittni and Brandon Feb. 9 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Both cheerleaders have Go Fund Me pages associated with their efforts, and Stacie Pogoncheff has a Facebook page associated for the two cheerleaders as well.