On the biggest stage of his life, Brent Apo-Hruska’s golf game rose to the occasion.
Apo-Hruska, along with his step father and unified partner John Moen, won the gold medal in unified golf team play at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi March 20.
Apo-Hruska and Moen were in second place and six strokes behind Team India entering the final round. But Apo-Hruska took his play to the next level in the final round to lead the USA team to the gold medal.
“The first three rounds, Brent was playing all right but he wasn’t playing his best,” Moen said. “On the last day, he didn’t miss a shot. He was really stroking it.”
Apo-Hruska, 29, and Moen, 62, shot a 78 in the final round to finish the four-round tourney with 349 strokes, good for a six-stroke win over runner-up India. The format was alternate shot with Apo-Hruska always teeing off on the odd numbered holes.
The opportunity to play in the World Games was the trip of a lifetime for the duo. The gold medal was just icing on the cake.
“It was an experience of a lifetime to go to Abu Dhabi and win gold at the World Games for Special Olympics,” said Apo-Hruska, a Bellevue East graduate.
Apo-Hruska and Moen played rounds with the unified teams from India, Guatemala and Denmark. Moen said that was enjoyable to be able to meet and play golf with people from all over the world.
The competition was played on the Yas Links golf course, which is ranked as the 44th best course in the world by Golf Digest Magazine.
Apo-Hruska usually plays his rounds at either Willow Lakes or Tregaron. While those area great courses, he said being able to play in a different country on one of the best courses in the world was an amazing experience.
“It was a good golf course and it was more fun (than what I’m used to),” Apo-Hruska said.
Playing on Yas Links was a special experience but the Special Olympics make it even better by pulling out all the stops for the competitors, giving them an experience that was similar to a professional golf tournament.
“They made it just like they do for the pros,” Moen said. “We had our own lockers in the clubhouse and had the giant tee markers. It was just like a pro tournament.”
The golf course wasn’t the only placed that the Bellevue duo was treated like royalty. The competitors were treated with luxury in every aspect of the trip.
“It doesn’t get any better,” Moen said. “We had first-class treatment the whole trip. They went all out so we could have a great time.
“I texted one of my friends that this was twice as good as I could have ever expected. It was like a dream.”
Apo-Hruska and Moen left Bellevue March 6 on a flight to New Jersey, where the USA Special Olympics held a party for all the country’s competitors. The next day they flew to Dubai to take in some attractions at one of the most extravagant cities in the world.
Moen said they stayed at a five-star hotel in Dubai before flying to Abu Dhabi and staying in a four-star hotel right next to Yas Links.
The Special Olympics also brought out some star power for the competitors. The Bellevue duo saw a ton of celebrities with Apo-Hruska saying meeting the WWE’s Stephanie McMahon and former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan were the two highlights.
The duo also saw USA Second Lady Karen Pence, MLB Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera and global speaker and former Special Olympic competitor Loretta Claiborne.
Being on such a grand stage, the duo knew they needed to be well-practiced before they left for the World Games. Since it was a brutal winter in Nebraska, the duo went to Texas for four days and Arizona for 12 days to get some rounds in prior to the World Games.
All that travel and the cost of competing in the World Games led to a couple fundraising efforts.
Apo-Hruska started a FirstGiving site that raised over $3,600 that helped pay for the Abu Dhabi trip and the USA Games trip to Seattle last summer. Moen and his wife, Diane, also put on a fundraising golf tournament at Tregaron in September.
Diane Moen is a member of local LPGA Amateur Golf Association so they were able to provide auction items and help run the tournament, that rounded up about $5,000 for the trip.
The entire family was appreciative of that support.
“That golf tournament turned out huge,” Moen said. “We got a lot of help from a lot of people.”
Apo-Hruska and Moen have played in unified tournaments in places like Glendale, Ariz; Hilton Head, S.C.; and Seattle but none of those trips lived up to playing in the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi.
“The whole experience, I couldn’t’ have even imagined it,” Moen said.