Special Olympics Delaware's athletes from around the state have their stories told
Athlete Laura Scott, 36, can’t compete with her peers in the Special Olympics Delaware Summer Games in June, since it won’t be held.
But her mom said that hasn’t stopped the bocce player and cyclist from staying physically fit during this stay-at-home lockdown.
“She does have a tricycle and she’s been riding it around the neighborhood,” said Laura’s mom, Susan Scott, of Middletown. “She also plays golf and wants to start practicing hitting golf balls in the backyard.”
Laura is one of 4,000-plus athletes in Special Olympics Delaware, who’s trying to get through the coronavirus quarantine like everyone else.
“I think the big part of Special Olympics for her is the social connection, in addition to the sports,” her mom said.
Her daughter plays for the MOT Tigers and has been involved in Special Olympics for about 20 years, including stints in neighboring states in Maryland and Virginia.
Laura’s mom, the MOT Tigers’ sport director for bowling, said she’s disappointed the Summer Games are canceled, especially since this year marks SODE’s 50th anniversary.
At the same time, “I wholeheartedly supported the decision,” the Middletown mom said.
The Summer Games is one of SODE’s biggest draws, with 800-plus athletes from across the state competing annually at the University of Delaware Bob Carpenter Center for two days in June.
Tennis twins in Hockessin
You’ve heard of trailblazing tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams. Special Olympics also boasts a pair of sibling tennis players, 43-year-old twins Thomas and Mark Wells, of Hockessin.
Thomas (the oldest by seven minutes) is an extrovert, while Mark is introverted. But they both share a passion for the racquet.
The twins play for the Newark Dragons and have been with SODE for 25 years. Over that time, they’ve played just about every sport offered, said their dad, George Wells.
Not being able to play sports right now has been rough on them. So Wells and his wife have had to figure out ways to keep their boys distracted.
“This year is a crisis for them without Special Olympics, he said.
“We all have masks so we’ll [regularly] take a walk around the neighborhood. One of our neighbors also has special needs, so they’ll be waving to us out on their front sidewalk.”
The twins have been playing board games like “Yahtzee,” along with exercising at home, to help pass the time, their dad said.
Dover-area Hall of Famer
As a teenager in 1974, Dave Manwiller began volunteering his time to Special Olympics Delaware. He continued as a special education major in college.
Manwiller spent the last 18 years of his career teaching special ed at the John S. Charlton School in Camden.
After nearly 50 years with SODE, he’s currently Kent County sports director for the Kent Wildcats.
Manwiller said his joy with the organization comes from what the athletes get out of the experience.
“They get an extended family that’s bigger than they could ever imagine, coaches that care for them, and they’re physically active,” said Manwiller, who’s an inductee of the Special Olympics Delaware Hall of Fame.
“A lot of our athletes, the more they’re involved, their communication skills improve tremendously just through Special Olympics,” he added. “We’ve had parents tell us their son or daughter didn’t speak until they joined Special Olympics, and now they won’t stop speaking.”
Sasha The Flash
Fitness is a way of life for Sussex Riptide coach Rob Bailey and his track-star son, Sasha, who’s 26 years old.
Bailey coached his son to winning four medals in track and field in 2018 at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
The quarantine hasn’t set back the father and son. Sasha is still exercising, running between 3 to 5 miles on the treadmill per day, while his dad is averaging 5 to 10 miles, Bailey said.
“Special Olympics means everything to Sasha, because he’s able to participate in sports when he wasn’t able to in regular sports,” said Bailey, the director for Sussex County-area sports with the Riptide.
“He’s able to stay active while gaining friendships. He’s learning leadership skills,” Bailey added. “He learns so much from Special Olympics. When he was younger, his motor skills weren’t as good as they are now. By competing in Special Olympics, he’s improved his agility and body movement.”
Sasha’s hard work helped him win in the USA Special Olympic Games in 2018. He earned two gold medals for the 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash. Then he racked up two silver medals from the 100-meter dash and 400x100-meter relay.
Bailey said his son and other members of the Riptide are in virtual fitness programs that Special Olympics has rolled out, such as the School of Strength and Fit 5.
Both programs are available at SODE.org and feature video demonstrations for simple exercises that athletes can do from home. This includes activities like running in place and jumping jacks.
The Sussex sports director said when he broke the news to Sasha in late March that the Summer Games were canceled, he made sure to explain that the decision to pull the plug was bigger than sports.
“It’s about our family, our volunteers and our athletes,” Bailey told his
son. “Special Olympics thinks the same thing about you. Your health and
safety is the most important right now.”
But no Summer Games doesn’t mean Sasha gets to slack off.
“We’re basically doing year-round training. We’re never off,” said Bailey, who explained his son is a multi-sport athlete. “Our name is Sussex Riptide and we’re Riptide strong.”
Smyrna’s unselfish swimmer
For 30 years, swimmer Leanne Evans has been in Special Olympics.
Since the 38-year-old Smyrna woman can’t swim with her Kent Wildcats teammates right now, she bonds with her peers and a coach on Zoom every Sunday afternoon, said her mom, Mary Ann Evans.
“We get on for about a half hour and they just chat, talking about what they’re doing and what exercises they’ve done,” her mom said. “They’re still trying to keep a connection and do what they can.”
This stay-at-home lockdown comes a year after Leanne was forced to miss the 2019 Summer Games, because her doctor was concerned about her heart.
That didn’t stop the Smyrna swimmer for showing support for her peers.
“She was at the pool at the Summer Games for two days, cheering on her teammates. She was a real trooper,” Evans said.
With clearance from her doctor to swim again, Leanne assumed things would be different this summer.
“This year she was really looking forward to participating, because of last year, and now this happens,” her mom said.
Jon Buzby, director of the Unified Champion Schools for SODE, said the organization is staying afloat, despite having to cancel popular fundraisers like Over the Edge and Ride to the Tide.
“We are fortunate to have a solid reserve to get us through these tough times,” Buzby said.
With Summer Games and other sports events canceled, SODE doesn’t have the expenses they usually have. That deficit is going to be much less than people would think, Buzby said.
Unlike their sister organizations, Delaware’s doesn’t charge its athletes to become a member, he added.
“We believe everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of the Special Olympics, despite the income situation of your family,” Buzby said.
The Summer Games was originally going to begin the 50-year celebration. Now they’re going to launch it at their Fall Sports Festival, he said.
“We’ve had a medal produced that would honor the 50th celebration, so this will be the only year it’s given out,” Buzby said. “It’s the only medal of its kind in the world. We’re excited about that.”
Buzby said the plan is to continue business as usual, providing virtual training ideas and opportunities, and offer “the same high-quality level of programming for our athletes when this pandemic is over, as we were before it began.”
Scott, MOT Tiger’s sport director for bowling, said her 36-year-old daughter, Laura, was looking forward to the Summer Games. But she’s not going to dwell on it.
Scott said her daughter told her, “That’s okay, there’s always next year,” the Middletown mom explained. “She’s a very positive person.”