Unbelievably excited— that’s how Briana Larson felt winning gold medals in the 100-meter run and the 4X100-meter relay. “When I got on the track, all I could think of was how I wanted to win,” she says.

Larson was one of 65 athletes and unified partners chosen to represent Wisconsin in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, held June 15-22 in Orlando. It’s an achievement that Larson has been working toward for 13 years. Her dedication and commitment to local events led Larson straight to the National Games—and the gold.

“I was so darned excited that I screamed and yelled a lot,” Larson says. “I was happy and excited to be able to compete for a gold medal.”

Beyond training and exercising, being selected to compete in the USA Games requires a level of social interaction and team building. For Larson, this is the best part. She says, “I really like to hang out with my friends and make new friends. I get to spend time with them. It’s nice that everyone is included.”

Each athlete who participates in the selection process must also raise a minimum of $500 toward the cost of attending the USA Games. When Koozie Group learned of Larson’s goal, the company donated $1,500 to her Olympic dream.

There was also held a send-off party for Larson, and Koozie Group created a water bottle for each member of the Wisconsin Special Olympics team.

She says, “My family and I want to give a shoutout to Koozie Group for all the support they have shown me in my journey to the USA Games. Koozie Group is awesome.”

With this donation, Larson was a top fundraiser, and was given the honor of walking next to the Wisconsin state flag bearer in the pre- event ceremony.

“I did get to lead the delegation into the stadium right next to the volunteer,” Larson says. “It was very exciting, and I was very happy waving at all the people. Everyone saw me because I was on ESPN TV.”

Larson is employed at ProAct Support Services and works in the community with supportive services at Koozie Group. Her role involves unpackaging, removing packing from items and other tasks.

“Once we found out that Briana was raising funds to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games, we knew we wanted to support her journey and help make her dream come true,” says Koozie Group Employee Experience and Communications Specialist Trisha Joyce. “We’re so proud of Briana for being selected to compete and happy that we could financially contribute to her success.”

Larson also gives back to her community. She loves to crochet, donating her knitwork to local hospitals and cancer centers. “It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I love to make baby hats and blankets,” she says. “If I had to pick, I would say the one I got the ribbon on at the fair last year.”

When she isn’t working or competing in the Olympics, Larson is connecting with herself and loved ones. “I like to walk, and that helps me to stay focused,” she says. “I play games with my friends and family as well. I talk with my friends on the phone and that keeps me excited to get ready to go and compete again.”

Briana’s Best Advice

To someone who is afraid to follow their dreams… I would say keep on trying because you never know when you will make it and get what you want. It’s always OK to reach out and ask for help.

The newest dream I am pursuing is… to do my best and get a medal so I can apply for the 2026 USA games, which will be in Minnesota. Right now, I am focusing on getting all my [crocheting] entries for the local fair and hoping to get some blue ribbons. I want to continue to work at Koozie Group because I love my job!

Valdez is an editor at PPAI.