He was one of the first people to welcome us to our new RV Park. Here he came slowly riding his 3-wheel bicycle down our street, directly to our driveway. He confidently knocked on our motor home door. His compassionate eyes bore into ours as we stepped outside to meet him.
“Hi. I’m Rocky,” he introduced himself. “What’s your name?” he asked, as he extended his hand to shake. “I just wanted to stop by and say welcome to Grandma’s Grove. If there’s anything you need or if you have any questions, you can ask me. I’ll probably know the answer.” With that said, he deliberately climbed back on his bicycle and rode off.
In the following days, we would see a lot more of Rocky. He would always greet us with a smile. If he forgot our names, he would unabashedly ask. He had the ability to find common subjects to talk with us about. Hailing from the state of Ohio, like us, he’s an avid and loyal Bengals and Reds fan. He would often comment on different sporting events, being very knowledgeable and informed. He would find us and announce team wins, always with a big grin on his face. He would admit disappointment in a team loss, as well.
Always helpful, he would stop by and offer to take our trash to the dumpster for us. Clearly taught good manners and raised with a lot of love and support, Rocky has the admirable ability to find a way into everyone’s heart. He participates in a number of park activities. His innocent determination and his sense of humor are contagious…joking and trading “barbs” with the best of us. His competitive spirit shows in everything he attempts. One time he asked me how many kids I have. When I replied that I had five, he triumphantly exclaimed, “Ha! We have seven and I’m the oldest!” He delighted in the fact that he could even beat me at that.
During one of our recent conversations, Rocky asked what kind of work I do. When I informed him I was a writer, he asked me if I would write something about the Special Olympics in which he competes. Of course I would. I am writing for Rocky because he lacks the resources to do so.
Doing some online research, I learned the Special Olympics evolved as a competition for those with mental and developmental disabilities. Training for this competition is available year-round. Today, there are more than 30 Olympic-type summer and winter sports in which to participate. The International Special Olympics have over four million athletes of all ages involved in sports training and competition in more than 170 countries.
Reading about the Special Olympics for myself was one thing, but I opted to write about the Special Olympics from Rocky’s point of view. Who better to tell about it than the person who proudly participates? I am both honored and humbled to act as his mouthpiece to help the public become more aware of the Special Olympic Organization, which instills teamwork, pride, and satisfaction in accomplishing a goal to all who try; something us able-bodied individuals take for granted.
Rocky has been involved in the Special Olympics program since he was 7 years old. Events in which he has participated include Track and Field, Softball Throw, and Bowling. Track and Field events consist of shot put, long jump, and 50-, 100-, and 200-yard dash. There are judges who determine the winners. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded for first, second and third place. Rocky has received many medals in these competitions…about 150 of them, he would guess.
The event in which Rocky currently competes is Bowling. Rocky states his dad taught him how to bowl and he loves the sport. When I asked him how he practices to compete in bowling, he answers, “a lot!” He has a bowling coach who has him practicing two hours a day for two days a week at a bowling alley near his home. His average, he states, is 146. His highest score is about 150. Ever the gentleman, he admits that his girlfriend has a better bowling average than he does and actually bowled a 300 at a Special Olympic competition in Arizona, winning first place.
Rocky excitedly relates that in 1995, his name was drawn to go to a Special Olympics bowling trip. He, his dad, his brother, and a friend traveled to Reno, Nevada They got to stay in a hotel and even play in a game room. Rocky bowled well enough to earn Third Place.
The 2010 Special Olympic regional bowling event is held in Mason, Ohio. From there, they go to Columbus, Ohio and stay in an Ohio State University dorm room for three days. They are given shorts, socks, and a baseball cap. His Clermont County team dons the same-colored T-shirt which he proudly wears…the insignia “Always a Champ” printed across the front.
Rocky informs me there is a Parade of Athletes ceremony which is televised. The lit Torch is carried from Michigan to Louisville to Cincinnati to Columbus. At the Opening Ceremony they say the “Pledge of Allegiance” and sing the National Anthem. After the Special Olympics Competition is finished, there is a party where the athletes play games, get free food, sing karaoke and dance. There are even fireworks…a fun and exciting way to end the Special Olympic Games.
Rocky admits that he gets very nervous when he competes. But, he is quick to add that he loves the competition. He also informs me that he enjoys coaching in the Special Olympics. His nephew, who has Downs Syndrome and signs because he is non-verbal, is one of the participants he coaches in the Softball Throw and the 50-yard dash. Rocky explains there is a regular coach, a lady coach and a special coach. His job is being the special coach.
Rocky is truly an inspiration to all who know him. I can see he lives by the following mantra as he recites the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I can NOT win, let me be brave in the attempt.” The act of competing in the Special Olympics, regardless of the outcome, is the goal.
Those involved in the Special Olympics believe in the adage of change your attitude, change the world. Rocky is a Special Olympian who, like others who participate, is changing attitudes as well as changing our world for the better.
There is actually much more to the Special Olympics than the competition, itself. Participants are learning a skill or sport…the rules, the objective, and the teamwork. They are learning to follow directions and instructions to the best of their ability. They diligently practice with determination and make time for the schedules their coaches set. Lasting friendships are made with other athletes, coaches, trainers, sponsors, and supporters.
The Special Olympics program allows the opportunity for these athletes to give back to their community by staying active in the Special Olympics through volunteer services…an open position to any Special Olympian who wishes to help. Preparing for the future, shaping personalities, instilling values, and teaching life lessons are all benefits of being a Special Olympian. The priceless smile at the end of the competition exudes a sense of pride and accomplishment. Most beneficial, though, are the lasting memories of a job well done!
The American Legion #406 in Bethel, Ohio sponsors Rocky in his Special Olympics endeavors with a gift of $100. If you would like to help support the Special Olympics, you can do so with monetary donations, by volunteering as a coach or trainer, or by serving as a spectator and cheering for these special athletes.