My soft spot exposed

By Andy Winemiller - [email protected]

As a writer at this publication I make a very concerted effort to put a game face on. I attempt to emotionally detach myself from every situation about which I write.

That applies to all coverage. My life has been one full of experiences which hardened me. Writing stories about people losing their lives has desensitized me even more.

That stated, even the most stoic of us has a soft spot. Mine is the Special Olympics.

If there’s a story in our paper regarding Special Olympics, I try to ensure my name is on the byline.

Last year’s games prompted tears to run down my cheek a couple of times. I love watching those very special people compete. Most often, they pour their heart into every event.

Special Olympics has a place near and dear to my heart, and it’s all thanks to one person whom I had the privilege to know throughout my years on earth.

My Uncle Tim was special to all of us, but I was as close to him as anybody. Tim was born with Down syndrome. He was a middle child, born after my father and prior to my aunt.

I grew up around Special Olympics. Tim never missed an opportunity to swim in the event. He also played basketball, volleyball, bocce and a few others throughout the years. However, swimming was his passion and what he did best.

Tim also made an annual trip to Columbus, Ohio, to swim in the state games. We went there a few times to watch.

Seldom did Tim return without multiple medals dangling from his neck. However, I do remember one such instance.

Tim failed to medal in swimming one year. Thus, he earned a participation ribbon. He tore it up. My grandmother was mad, and I was delighted to hear of the antic. He, like most other Winemillers I have known, felt losing was unacceptable.

I also used to chaperone dances at the Board of Mental Retardation. I even worked for the entity for a couple summers. I’d say helping those like Tim became one of my first passions in life.

One must understand when you have an uncle like Tim, he becomes a lot of things in life. Tim functioned about the same as a 5-year-old.

Thus, when we were little, Aaron and I had a playmate. Tim would tote us around everywhere. We spent hours upon hours in the backyard at my grandparents’ home. We threw the football around, chased each other around the yard and drove my grandfather crazy when we would get into things.

One memory, which seems like yesterday, is of Tim putting Aaron and me in the basket of his adult-sized tricycle. Then he would race around with us telling him to go faster. It was usually a bumpy ride, but it was fun.

The other neat thing about Tim was that he had the same interests as us, but he had more than two decades of life experiences. He knew all the secrets in getting to go where you wanted, or to getting the toy for which you longed.

Once we hit our teen years, Tim started calling us his “sons.” After Aaron and I would wrestle he would take us by the hand and make a huge spectacle of shouting and raising it into the air, always proclaiming us the winner.

Usually we had won. That’s what we did. However, win or lose, we would remain winners in Tim’s book.

He would remain proud of us until the day he died last week, just as he remained an important part of our lives.

Last Friday heaven became a little less “normal” and a little more special.

As we grew up, our roles transitioned. In those early years Tim took care of us.

Later, we took care of Tim.

He had taught us plenty of useful things when we were little. Now it was our turn.

Tim introduced us to speed in the basket of that tricycle. Later we would introduce him to 110 m.p.h. on a country road. Needless to say, he loved it.

We tried to involve him in everything. He went on vacations and watched sporting events. When all the old folks went to bed, we would try to get Tim out on the town.

Even with all our attempts, I could have never taught Tim as much as he taught me.

From a young age I knew the kids who “rode the short bus” to school weren’t as different as one might think. I learned just how special somebody with special needs can be.

Thanks to Tim, I now realize you can learn a whole bunch about life from the person with the lowest IQ in the room.

Whether it was competition or unconditional love, Tim knew plenty about it.

This year will be the toughest Special Olympics I will have ever witnessed.

It will be the first one I will attend without my own special athlete in my life.

Some people find their comfort in solitude or prayer. I will find mine in the faces of the hundreds of athletes and special people just like Tim and in the memories I’ll forever retain.

By Andy Winemiller

[email protected]

Andy is a staff writer for the News and can be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer for the News and can be reached at 415-4698.

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