Two cheerleaders from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) are headed to the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in March.
Brittni Wainscott and Brandon Newlander are currently on the JBLM Tigers cheer squad. It's a unified team made up of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities.
Kelbie Pogoncheff founded the team three years ago when she was 15. Kelbie cheered at Lakes High School and has two siblings with special needs.
"I've always been drawn to kids with special needs. I love the love they have to share,” said Pogoncheff. “Cheerleading brought out my confidence. That's what I wanted to bring to Special Olympics. It was the best of both worlds.”
Pogoncheff has since moved off to college in Texas but is still involved with the team. She cheers and chants from her dorm room at Baylor University and sends them to her team electronically.
The Tigers light up the sidelines at other Special Olympics team sports, like basketball. As a team, they participate in local and state competitions.
They even got to take part in the Special Olympics USA Games held in Seattle last summer. That led to the Special Olympics World Games invitation.
Unfortunately, the high cost of the trip means not everyone can go.
Kim Wainscott couldn't pass up the opportunity to bring her daughter, Brittni, who has autism.
"We never imagined being a part of the U.S. team, much less going overseas. Not many people with autism get to do something like this. It's amazing," said Wainscott.
At 27, Brittni is the oldest member of the JBLM Tigers. She and her mom drive to practices at the base from Orting two days a week.
"It's worth it," said Wainscott. "Brittni has developed relationships with the coaches and the other girls. They're all really sweet to her. When we come here, we're fully accepted, no matter what her behaviors are. No one is going to look down on us. And that's really important."
Brittani needs the full support of a helper. When she performs cheers, she has a teammate who stands behind her and helps her with the motions.
Helpers are often siblings or friends of the athletes. They do the same thing as everyone else and also wear the same uniforms.
"We act as one team," said Pogoncheff. "It's like a family. We all go out to movies together. We all go eat dinner together."
Brittni and teammate Brandon Newlander are among 10 U.S. cheerleaders who will travel to Abu Dhabi.
The newly formed team will compete among athletes from Russia and Japan. This is the first-time competitive cheer is being introduced to Special Olympics globally.