When asked what she hopes to accomplish this weekend at the highest level competition in her 10-year athletic career, gymnast Karlee Darow of Palatine does not hesitate.
"I want to try to do my best and make sure everyone does a great job, too," Karlee, 18, says.
DeAnn Darow, Karlee's mother, said in the 10 years that Karlee, who has Down syndrome, has participated in gymnastics she has become a "more confident and outgoing person."
"She feels more sure of herself," DeAnn Darow said. "She's made friends and met people from all over the country and the state and had great chances to travel, which she wouldn't have otherwise."
Karlee, who has competed in Texas, Atlanta and St. Louis, will be traveling to New Jersey this weekend after being selected by her coaches to participate in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
Although she also plays basketball and volleyball through a Special Olympics program at Palatine High School, Karlee said she has stayed with gymnastics for a decade because she loves it. This weekend she'll perform on the uneven bars, vault, balance beam and -- her favorite -- the floor routine.
Karlee said she enjoys the flow of the floor routine, which is reflected in her music choice, a selection from the Celtic dance show "Riverdance."
Karlee's training involves weekly sessions with both a private gymnastics instructor and a strength coach.
DeAnn Darow said their family -- which consists of Karlee's father, Jim, and sisters Holly, 15, and Emily, 21 -- doesn't often get to travel with Karlee to her competitions, but they all will be there in New Jersey for the USA Games, which Special Olympics organizers call the largest event in the organization's history.
"This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," DeAnn Darow said.