Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco Special Olympians are champs for the day

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WESLEY CHAPEL

They were marked and set for the 25-meter dash. The other runners went. Smiling, he watched them take off down the track. Then someone yelled. "Go, Shane!" And with that, Shane was off, too. Shane, who has Down syndrome, is built like a fireplug: 4-foot-8 and about 120 pounds. When he runs, his stepgrandfather says, he waddles like a duck. And he doesn't want to stop. The 25-meter line came and went. Shane giggled breathlessly while he ran on.

It wasn't until he almost ran through the finish line of another race on the other side of the track that he was stopped Thursday afternoon by a group of volunteers.

Shane raised his arms and wandered over to the Olympic village.

The East Pasco Special Olympics began a few hours earlier with a parade in the Wesley Chapel High School stadium. Led by the marching band, 400 athletes, all dressed in red shirts, and 250 to 300 volunteers lined the track in the opening ceremony.

As they trailed by the stands filled with parents and friends, one little girl bounced in her wheel chair. Another blew kisses and waved like a homecoming queen. From her spot in the parade, fifth-grader Chayanne Zeller singled out a woman in the crowd. She pointed at the woman and began pushing her palm against her fist frantically.

"Ms. Black!" she signed to guidance counselor Becky Black. "Teacher!"

Amy Thompson, a teacher at Wesley Chapel High and one of the coordinators for the Special Olympics, said some of her students spend all year looking forward to this day.

"Having a disability, they don't get to do everything," she said. "This gives them an opportunity to do the same thing their peers are doing."

• • •

Over at the Olympic village, on the school's basketball courts, Shane, 17, a senior at Wesley Chapel High, hopped and twisted to Etta James' Good Feeling.

Beside him, Katie Koncar, an 18-year-old senior and student volunteer, was reminded of the Homecoming dance this year. She's one of two girls he took.

The other, Lindsey Blanset, also an 18-year-old senior student volunteer, remembers watching him jumping around, "sweating buckets."

They have the same back scar from scoliosis surgery. But Shane has more.

Between November 2007 and June 2011, he's had 12 surgeries.

A scar down his back from his collar to his waist is where two metal rods went in to straighten his spine. Another scar goes 7 inches up the back of his head where a metal plate was put in to hold brackets to his spine. One cuts diagonally under his shoulder blade where doctors took a bone graft to fuse that bracket in place. Three scars on his belly form an arrow pointing upward. That's where doctors added liners between his intestines to keep them from adhering to each other.

The only time he thinks about those scars is when he's showing them off.

His family calls him "little superman."

"He could probably charm the devil," his mother, Sue Allen, says.

• • •

At the bocce ball court, Leonardo "Leo" Stoll Jr. won by two inches and a point.

Stoll, 21, who has cerebral palsy, and another man in a wheelchair squared off, aiming a gutter on the court and rolling the balls down.

When the winner was announced, Stoll smiled and reeled.

His coach, Chris Barber, also a football coach at Wiregrass Ranch High, leaned over the back of Stoll's wheelchair.

"What time is it?" Barber repeated.

"Game time!" Stoll growled back.

In another 25-meter race on the track, Tori Segrest, 16, bumbled toward the finish line, jumping and shouting.

Her mother, Marla Santiago, said Tori had been up since 5:30 that morning, packing her shoes and gym shorts into her Nike bag.

"This is like the highlight of her year," her mother said.

She came in fifth out of five. That didn't matter.

When a volunteer pinned the white fifth-place ribbon to her shirt, she looked at it like it was a $100 bill.

"Oh, look at this," she said. "I won."

• • •

Behind the stadium, minutes before the tennis-ball-throwing competition, Shane slurped on an orange ice pop.

When the volunteers were ready for him, he tossed the treat into a garbage can and stepped up to the throw line.

He chucked each ball further than the other. Everyone cheered. Shane shook his fists in the air.

One woman reached over to pin a blue ribbon to his shirt. He kissed her on the hand.

Shane's mother walked over. She lifted his arm to reveal a trail of melted ice pop that had made its way almost to his armpit.

He squealed. "Woooooo!"

There, with his arm in the air, a smile on his face and a ribbon on his shirt, Shane looked like a champion.

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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