Grace Knechtle, a tennis player from New Canaan, is practicing and preparing to represent Connecticut at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, which will take place in New Jersey June 14-21.

She is one of 76 Athletes and Unified Sports Partners selected to be part of Team Connecticut for the Games. She hopes to come home with the gold, which she has achieved many times before.

Nearly 3,500 athletes will compete in 16 Olympic-style team and individual sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches, 10,000 volunteers and 70,000 family, friends and spectators. The Special Olympics USA Games will celebrate the Special Olympics movement, promote the ideals of acceptance and inclusion through sport and showcase athletes from throughout the U.S. and the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. The 2014 USA Games will also highlight Special Olympics' work in sport, education, health and communities.

Knechtle first became involved with Special Olympics in 1992 when she heard about the organization from her brother. She has made friends from all over Connecticut by participating in the Special Olympics' bowling program, and practicing with her tennis team, which meets every Saturday morning at Darien High School.

Knechtle has made another special connection through Special Olympics -- with Lyn Nevins, her Unified Partner for tennis. Nevins is not only Knechtle's tennis partner, but also her hero. According to Knechtle, she is kind, patient, respectful and "an awesome tennis player."

Knechtle has been playing all her life and has won many medals since she started with Special Olympics. The only motivation Knechtle needs is her love of the game. She loves getting out and hitting tennis balls almost as much as she loves winning gold medals. She also loves animals and spending time with her family. She says that participating in Special Olympics has brought "even more happiness into her life."

Nevins, of Darien, has been involved with Special Olympics for more than 20 years. Her daughter got involved with Special Olympics Connecticut's tennis program at a young age and Nevins decided to join with her. However, that was not her first encounter with tennis. She has been playing her entire life.

Nevins went to the first Special Olympics National Summer Games in Ames, Iowa, in 2006 and looks forward to having an opportunity to compete with tennis players from across the country once again.