Brent Apo-Hruska picked up a set of golf clubs more than two decades ago.
And he’s been a natural ever since.
In March, the 29-year-old Bellevue man showed off his skills on a golf course in Abu Dhabi. He came home with a gold medal from the Special Olympics World Games.
“It was an awesome experience,” Apo-Hruska said.
Apo-Hruska wasn’t the only Nebraska athlete to come home a winner. Kearney teen Katie Philpot nabbed four medals — two gold and two silver — in swimming competitions.
Apo-Hruska has been golfing since he was 8 years old. His neighbors got him started and seeing parents, Diane and Johnny Moen, golf regularly helped.
Apo-Hruska, who graduated from Bellevue East High School, has been involved in golf and bowling programs through Special Olympics Nebraska for about 15 years. He has a condition in which part of his brain didn’t fully develop, his mom Diane Moen said.
When the weather’s nice, Apo-Hruska golfs about three days a week. He’s in two leagues and golfs with a Special Olympics group. Apo-Hruska has participated in several national golf tournaments for Special Olympics. He competes alongside stepdad Johnny Moen.
Leading up to the world games, Apo-Hruska and Moen practiced in Texas and Arizona.
At the competition in Abu Dhabi, they alternated each shot until the ball made it in the hole. The duo got one practice round on the course, Yas Links. They also spent time on the driving range. Two rounds helped sort them into a division and the following two rounds were competitive. All scores were cumulative.
The course was tough, Apo-Hruska said. It was made more challenging by a sand storm that swept through one day of the competition.
Going into the final day, they were sitting in second place. With six holes left, they were only three strokes behind first place. Apo-Hruska set them up for a birdie on the tricky 17th hole, Moen said. They wound up shooting a 78 and it launched them into first place.
“(Brent) was pretty excited,” Moen said. “Everybody was congratulating him.”
Despite the time difference, mom Diane Moen followed along at home in Bellevue. She started yelling and cheering when she learned of the gold-medal victory.
Off the course, Apo-Hruska went sightseeing and rode a camel. But he opted to skip some outings so he could cheer on his teammates. That isn’t out of the ordinary: he’s a fixture at Bellevue East High School sporting events.
Katie Philpot’s first event of the World Games was the 200-meter freestyle. She came in second with a time of 2:30.58. She won her first gold medal about eight hours later. She posted a time of 1:16.68 in the 100-meter butterfly.
Philpot recorded a first-place finish again in the 100-meter freestyle.
The two Nebraska athletes, from Bellevue and Kearney, were greeted by friends, family and co-workers at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield on Saturday morning. Both athletes, sporting Team USA gear, wore medals draped around their necks.
“I don’t think there’s been anything better for (Brent) than being involved in Special Olympics,” Johnny Moen said. “It’s the best thing for these kids to have some place to go and feel like they’re somebody.”
This report includes material from the World-Herald News Service.