Chris Wines had a motto that he would repeat to himself when he competed at the local- and state-level triathlons this past year.
“I would say at every event, ‘road to World Games’, ‘road to World Games,’” said the 18-year-old from Hammonton.
Now that road has ended, and Wines plans to travel Monday to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to compete in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games.
With the new path unfolding, Wines has also adopted a new mantra.
“Go for gold,” he said.
Wines is one of 216 athletes in the United States and one of three from New Jersey who will compete in the games from March 14 to 21.
He has been competing with the Special Olympics since 2013 in multiple events including swimming, floor hockey, softball and triathlon.
He will only compete in triathlon, a sport he started dedicating himself to about five years ago. The event is scheduled to take place March 8.
Matt Willey was Wines’ gym teacher at the Y.A.L.E. School in Cherry Hill, which serves students with one or a combination of social and learning disabilities, and was the person who helped get Wines started in the swimming, biking and running event.
“He was always running around full of energy, and I’m a triathlete myself and I knew about the triathlon. I thought he be the ideal person,” he said.
When Willey got an email eight months ago from Special Olympics New Jersey for the opportunity, he passed it along to Wines’ parents.
“We were just regular triathletes. Now he’s at the pinnacle for Special Olympics,” Willey said. “He can’t go any higher than this with Special Olympics. He’s going to compete against the other best triathletes in the world.”
The triathlon will consist of a 800-meter swim, a 12-mile bike and a three-mile run.
Wines has been training under the guidance of Noah Dellas, of Cape May Court House.
Dellas competed and won the same triathlon event at the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles.
Dellas has been helping Wines with strength and resistance training in the pool and on the treadmill. They meet at the Ocean City Aquatic Center two times a week and spend about an hour in the pool before biking and running for two hours after.
“Strategy would be find a rhythm in the swimming portion because if I tire myself out with that, I’m tired throughout the rest of the race,” Wines said.
They have also prepared for keeping his course straight during the swim, which poses its own unique challenges in open water instead of in a pool.
“It’s relatively calm, but you won’t have anything to go off of,” Dellas said. “We’re working on him spotting every so often so he doesn’t go off.”
Dellas said he sees a lot of himself in Wines.
“I think he’s going to do well. I think he’s going to do well in life altogether just because he has that mindset,” Dellas said. “He wants to commit himself 100 percent with whatever, and he has a great passion and a great personality, and I think that will go a long way.”
Along with Special Olympics sports, Wines played on the Y.A.L.E school’s soccer, softball and basketball teams. He also took part in the school’s color guard, chorus, robotics and dance groups. His hobbies include drumming, coding, photography, cooking and participating in a Revolutionary War re- enactment group.
Adding to this long list of achievements, Wines was also given more responsibilities as he was named Hammonton’s first-ever “mayor for a day” at a sendoff luncheon on Wednesday. It was also declared Chris Wines Day in Atlantic County.
His parents Ron and Debbie, who will be cheering Chris on from home, are proud of what he has been able to accomplish in and out of sports.
His father remembered watching him call out to his teammates and encourage them at his most recent basketball game.
“He’s come out of his shell, and he’s just a totally different person,” his mother said.
Although he’s not looking forward to the 14-hour flight, Chris Wines said he is excited to compete in something bigger than himself.
“He’s just the kind of kid who’s just going to embrace that and get everything out of it that he can,” Willey said.