Keri Novak: Texoma Special Olympics Powerlifting Star

An inspiring group of Texoma athletes are on their way to Hurst, Texas to participate in the annual Special Olympics Powerlifting Competition. Newschannel Six  met an athlete from Graham who'll be competing for the first time this year.

Keri Novak is no stranger to the Special Olympic sports world, but her journey to get there was a challenging one. Do to a rare condition she was born with, she wasn't sure if she would ever be able to participate, much less compete in a sport.

However with a lot of training and a lot of heart, Keri is now a contender to be reckoned with.

"Everyone was saying she'll never walk," said Betty Novak, Keri Novak's Mother, "if you think she can't do it then you tell her but I won't."

For the average person walking into a gym is a step we think twice about before taking, but for Keri Novak it's as important as when she took her first step.

Keri is a quiet 27 year old and a little camera shy, but that's ok because in her case actions always speak louder than words.

"One wonderful thing about weightlifting is it's not about the weight," said Carla Nichols, North Texas Special Olympics Powerlifting Coach, " its all about the PR."

PR or personal record- doing more than you did before, something Keri is known to do in more ways than one.

You see Keri isn't your typical workout fanatic. She gains her strength from something else, something she was born with.

"Keri was born with encephalocele which part of the brain forms on the outside of the head," said Betty.

Encephalocele is a rare condition and only occurs in one of every 5,000 live births worldwide. The exact cause is still unknown. Some believe its caused by failure of the neural tube to close completely during fetal development. This ultimately affected her balance and her ability to walk.

"She's just done anything she's wanted to do, she sets a goal to do something and she does it," said Betty.

When Keri was in 5th grade she decided she wanted to learn to walk, but not everyone was as supportive as her mother.

"Everyone was saying she'll never walk it can't be done, we won't pay for physical therapy for something that isn't going to happen," said Betty.

With only her Mom's support, Keri defied the odds.

"When she was a senior in high school her goal was to walk across the stage to get her diploma and she did it," said Betty, " she got a standing ovation."

But Keri didn't stop there, a Special Olympic's athlete since the age of 9 she was looking for a new challenge to test her limits.

" Keri had to be helped in by her mother she could not walk on her own and they came in and sat down in my office," said Carla.

For 2 years Coach Carla has helped others just like Keri. Nobody knew it at the time,  but that office visit was about to change all of their lives.

"Most amazing thing is I looked over at Keri and she cracked a smile because she knew I wasn't going to put any limitations on her," said Carla.

Special Olympics is an organization that provides year round sports training and athletic competitions in a variety of Olympic style sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

"This is their day to shine I mean they see the other kids play football, basketball, run track you know and a lot of them will never be able to do that but this is geared to them," said Betty.

What's important here is that these athletes are competing against themselves, it's an individual goal, Keri's goal? Well let's just say it's an accomplishment.

"100lb dead lift...squatting 30 lbs...bench press 20 lbs, " said Carla

Powerlifting is not only Keri's new passion, it's something that has changed her body in a way one could only dream of. However,  Keri's still working on one other dream, walking on her own.

"The first time I met Keri I would have described her as frail, I would not describe her as frail now...The curvature of her spine has started to straighten out, hold her back up better...holds her posture better,"  said Carla, " just her spirit alone, she's an amazing, amazing person and she's an inspiration to myself and to everyone."

Despite her rare condition, Keri has tackled every odd stacked up against her and it shows.

"She hasn't exactly been dealt the best hand in this life with some of her disabilities but she's never let that stop her from doing what she wants to do and that is an inspiration," said Carla.

"It's fantastic, it's like we did this...she has surpassed everything we ever thought, " said Betty.

Keri's message to the world? Don't look at me like a disabled person I'm an athlete.

Samantha Jordán, Newschannel Six

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