Meet Larry – Going for the Gold at the Special Olympics Games

The 2022 Special Olympics Games were held in Orlando, FL., in June and brought together over 5,500 athletes, partners, and coaches from all 50 states to compete in 19 sports in front of nearly 125,000 spectators.

Among the thousands of athletes was Mercy Housing Northwest resident Larry.

Going for Gold 

Larry, a resident at Villa Kathleen, has been involved with the Special Olympics since 1997. Having previously competed in the World Games three times in cycling, speed skating, and bowling, his focus had been on returning to the U.S. Games as a member of the volleyball team representing the state of Washington.

MHNW resident and Special Olympic athlete Larry.

“I am involved with the Special Olympics in Washington State most of the year, either with bowling or volleyball,” Larry explained during a recent interview.

“I moved into Villa Kathleen apartments in 2004 and got into cycling and volleyball – I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing” he added.

Larry’s hard work, dedication, and determination paid off as he was selected to be on the volleyball team and represent the state of Washington in the 2022 Special Olympics Games.

Special Olympics

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics is a global movement to empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their community and unleash the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports around the world. The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, where the opening ceremony included a teen runner carrying a torch to light a 45-foot high ‘John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope.’

Special Olympics athletes display remarkable abilities not just in sports but in all areas of life.

Welcome to Disneyworld

Along with his nine teammates and coaches, Larry boarded a plane from Seattle, WA. and headed to Orlando, FL., where the Special Olympics were held this year.

And while he was not a fan of the humidity (Warmth? “Yes.” Humidity? “Nope.”), Larry admitted, “it was fun down in Orlando; just meeting different people. It was also my first time going to Walt Disneyworld – it was great!”

The athletes, coaches, and their families had Animal Kingdom to themselves while the rest of the Magic Kingdom remained open to the public. “We went on the Aviator Ride and Animal Kingdom, plus four rides in the Magic Kingdom,” Larry enthusiastically explained. It was then time to get down to business as the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony got underway.

The Competition

Under the hot June sun, the volleyball team played four days of tournaments during the Games and faced some fierce competition from teams representing Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and more.

Each match consisted of three sets (best of three) – “There was one match against Pennsylvania where we made them look good,” Larry recalled. “We let them have a couple of points but wound up winning the match.” Suddenly, the team found themselves playing for the gold medal in volleyball.

“I thought we were going to lose because we were down by so much,” Larry explained. “But we came back and won! It felt great!”

Unfortunately, due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the medal presentation and closing ceremony were canceled, but that didn’t damper Larry or his friends’ experience in Orlando.

Home Sweet Home

Back Home – GOLD medalist (volleyball), Larry.

“I keep my medal with me,” said Larry, who is now back home in Washington. Asked if he’s become a bit of a celebrity at Villa Kathleen, Larry answers, “Oh yes.”

Fame, however, has not gone to Larry’s head. He recently started a new job at a grocery store which he is enjoying so far. A native of Washington State, Larry did not play a specific sport as a kid, but he did enjoy playing outdoors. “We didn’t have computers and were encouraged to play outside,” he said. His love of outdoor activity followed him as he got older, “my body needs it,” Larry described.

When he isn’t spending time outdoors or working at his new job, you can find Larry helping other residents with their technology questions and/or helping them to adjust to living alone for the first time.

Larry adds, “I enjoy living here. This community is so close-knit (24 apartment homes), which is what we like about it here.” Residents are indeed very proud of him. And Mercy Housing is proud of him too.

Asked if he could pick one favorite memory of participating in the Special Olympics Games over the years, Larry said with a smile, “Meeting Eunice and Tim Shriver. That was great.”

Congratulations, Larry (and team), on winning the Gold!