Two Big Island athletes prepare to compete at Special Olympics World Games

  • Kalei Lee sports her Team USA shirt and poses for a photo in front of her drawings at home last month in Waimea. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Kalei Lee sports her Team USA shirt and poses for a photo in front of her drawings at home in Waimea on Saturday, March 11, 2023. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Teresa Moore holds her handmade Special Olympics USA Team sign at home last month in Hilo. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

  • Teresa Moore holds her handmade Special Olympics USA Team sign at home in Hilo on Thursday, March 9, 2023. (Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald)

Two Big Island athletes are preparing for the biggest stage yet – the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany.

Teresa “Tess” Moore and Virginia “Kalei” Lee are training in track and field and powerlifting, respectively, to represent Hawaii and Team USA in the 2023 Special Olympics World Games, which will take place June 16 to June 25.


The two athletes are veterans of Special Olympics with both being part of the program for over 25 years.

More than 190 countries will be represented in the World Games and Team USA will have athletes from every state on its team.

“I’m so happy to be doing track and field for the Special Olympics USA representing Hawaii in Berlin. I’ve been in track and field for every year for 20 years,” Moore said. “Now my training is more intense and focused instead of once a week. Now it’s a three times a week.”

Moore, 41, lives in Hilo and is excited to travel further than she ever has for the Special Olympics, which is important to her.

“Special Olympics is a big part of my life. It’s my exercise and social group,” Moore said. “I’m so excited for Germany where I will try new food and meet new people from around the world.”

Lee, 38, lives in Waimea and is active with Special Olympics year-round. She loves to compete in regional and state games in multiple sports and will be joining the powerlifting team of 10 lifters.

“I’m practicing a lot more for the games and I’m on a diet and walking every day,” Lee said. “I’m excited for the plane ride, the medals and meeting new people.”

When not participating in Special Olympics, Lee loves to be active with her adult day program group in Honokaa, draw and socialize at church.

Lee will be traveling with her local coach, who is also the West Hawaii Area Director, Denise Lindsey. They have both traveled for Special Olympics, but have never been to Europe.

“This will be pretty exciting for Kalei and I’m excited, too. I’ve been coaching her for close to 15 years, so we’re really close,” Lindsey said. “It’s an honor to be chosen in general and I’m even more thrilled that we have a West Hawaii athlete going. I’m so excited to be able to coach her and help her succeed at the world games.”

According to Nip Ho, senior vice president of programs for Special Olympics Hawaii, athletes that have won a gold medal in the state games that year are put into a random drawing where their names are literally placed into a hat and pulled out.

The athletes who are chosen are then vetted to make sure they are able to travel and work with coaches they may not have worked with before.

While vying for medals and doing the best they can in their respective sports, Moore and Lee are also excited to experience a new part of the world and make lifetime memories.

“For them, this is all about experiencing the world. It’s going to be a bigger than life venue,” Lindsey said. “Even if something happens and Kalei doesn’t medal, that’s OK. To be chosen as an elite athlete as part of the world games is an honor. All of the athletes will have a whole new life change.”

Special Olympics athlete Shavanna Mahoe will be joining as a bocce ball official and will be the first athlete official to represent Hawaii at a national or world competition.

Although they will not be able to attend the state games due to the World Games, Moore, Lee and Mahoe will all be participating in their respective regional games at the end of April.

“One of the biggest things I’ve seen volunteering and working with the Special Olympics is that the competition and socialization is so important to them all,” said Paul Lee, Kalei’s father. “They make life long friendships and it helps them really feel good about what they can accomplish.”

Hawaii County officer Kui Dela Cruz will also be accompanying the team to participate in the law enforcement torch run.

Team Hawaii is still raising money to support travel for Lee, Moore, Mahoe and Dela Cruz. Those interested can donate to their fundraising campaigns at

Email Kelsey Walling at

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