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'We're a family': Madison County Special Olympics athletes lean on each other

Richmond Register - 6/1/2019

June 01-- Jun. 1--Sometimes, when someone thinks about those with special needs, they think their capabilities are limited.

They believe they can't be athletes who compete against one another, vying for first place. They believe that they are incapable of forming loving and lasting relationships.

But it's actually the exact opposite. Especially in the Madison County Special Olympics.

The athletes that compete in the Special Olympics and Summer Games consider one another family. Just ask Crystal Tudor, Tyler Gay and Jeremy Baker.

One thing all three of them have in common is that they first got involved with the Special Olympics at a young age. For Tudor, who is now 43, she first began doing track after one of her assistants thought she would be perfect for it.

"When I first started doing track, it was all I did. I did that up until I graduated," Tudor said.

Baker first began his involvement in the Special Olympics when he lived in Cincinnati around the age of 6. He also was a runner, but after moving to Madison County in the late '80s, he got into weightlifting, which then shifted to bowling and basketball, which he continues to play at 39-years-old.

Gay was around 8 when his mom, Kathy, first heard about the Special Olympics from a friend. The only sport available was baseball, but there wasn't another league around to play.

"They had to play the parents. I was so bad that one of the kids went and got the tee and put it in front of me and said, 'There, hit it now,'" Kathy laughed.

Over the years, the three athletes, and many others like them, have practiced hard and prepared themselves for regionals and state competitions, waiting for the day that the Summer Games finally arrive.

Baker doesn't play in the Summer Games, but that's because he has work to do. For the past 20 years, Baker has been employed at O'Charley's, a job he loves. He's never tired at the end of his shift, despite rolling all of the silverware, cleaning all the dishes and making rolls, among other things. He recently was given the honorary title of general manager. Practice for sports that take place during the Summer Games falls right into his work schedule which he won't change, even for a vacation.

He recently finished practice for bowling, where he scored a 243, an all-time record score.

"He loves to see the strikes and the competitiveness of the game," his mom Helen said.

Her and her husband, Don, both remember the first time Baker won his first regional game.

"(Helen) jumped up and down like a cheerleader," Don laughed.

Gay isn't the competitive type, according to his mother. He enjoys the Special Olympics because it allows him to be outside and active with his friends. But despite this, Kathy said, he is quite the jock.

If he isn't running during track and field practice or practicing archery at home, he has every electronic device playing all types of sports.

Kathy said she has always tried to instill upon him and the other athletes to be appreciative to those who give their time during the Summer Games in the name of Special Olympics.

For Tudor, being a part of the Special Olympics and the Summer Games has meant more than just something to do during the summer. It's about the camaraderie between athletes, but also the fact that there are no sore losers or gloating winners.

Tudor said during her time with the Special Olympics, she has gained confidence in who she is, despite her disability, and has found a place she and her friends can be themselves, not only on field, but off it at dances and banquets held by the Madison County Special Olympics organization.

"To me, Special Olympics allows us to be ourselves without being looked at any different than anyone else," Tudor said. "We can get out there and do our best, or get out there and make our mistakes, and no one is going to laugh. We are a family. This is something we can go to and be ourselves and not be judged."

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(c)2019 the Richmond Register (Richmond, Ky.)

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