Joni Talavera, 34, is a Special Olympics Pennsylvania athlete who will be attending the 2017 World Winter Games to compete in figure skating. Talavera has been involved with Special Olympics for more than 25 years, also competing in powerlifting, roller skating and gymnastics. This will be her first World Games experience. “It’ll be a new experience,” she said. “I’m excited to explore unknown and unfamiliar grounds. I can’t wait to get over to Austria.” Joni’s sister, Neici, said her sister didn’t really want to go at first. “I encouraged her to take advantage of this opportunity because you never know when you’ll have this chance again,” Neici said. “To have this kind of skill and represent the US and display that to the entire world, it means a lot. “It’ll help her claim independence and this skill as her own and take control over her own life.” Joni said she’s just looking forward to “having fun and having a good old time.” Joni is a past Special Olympics Pennsylvania Athlete of the Year and a black belt in karate. In her free time, Joni is a skilled craftsperson, making messenger bags from scratch. “She started by melting aluminum cans to a mold for money on the side, but realized she could make things,” Neici said. “She’s very resourceful. A lot of times I think I’m advising her on something, but in the outcome she’s complete aware of what’s going on and how she’s going to feel about it. She may not explain it, but she knows.” Joni was in middle school when she was first exposed to Special Olympics. “Her teacher in school was like her mom; she could get her to do things no one else in our family could,” Neici said. Since then, Special Olympics has meant a lot to the Talavera family. “It keeps me in great shape and I get to make good memories because of all the places I travel and friends I meet,” Joni said. It wasn’t until recently that Joni started to really take pride in the competitive side of sports. “When she first started, she didn’t really care about the medals, she was just happy to be up there getting attention and being with her friends,” Neici said. “Now she’s very competitive.” It’s easy to tell that Neici is proud of her older sister, Joni.
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