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Seasoned Special Olympians Share Memories

by on June 08, 2013 9:50 AM

Success in the Special Olympics games has taken Greg Focht all over the world, but this weekend the 47-year old Centre County native is back home where it all began.

Focht has competed in the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games since age 8, actively participating in 40 of the 44 years the games have existed.

He is a man of many talents having competed in basketball, softball, and bowling over the years, but athletes are only allowed to pick one event at the summer games, and his specialty is golf.

His golf game earned him a trip to Athens, Greece in the summer of 2011 for the Special Olympics World games where Focht brought home a silver medal, coming just two strokes shy of winning gold.

It was Focht’s first and only time out of the country but a trip he will not soon forget.

“Outside of the golf competition, the opening ceremonies were my favorite part,” Focht said. “They had these drummers that play on clay pots. It was really cool to see.”

When Focht qualified for the drawing into the World Games at the Special Olympics in 2010, his name was announced in front of thousands of people.

Last month, Focht was in Philadelphia where he earned induction into the Pennsylvania Special Olympics Hall of Fame. He met several celebrities including Chip Kelly, the first-year head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I’m a Rams fan,” Focht joked. “But that new coach is cool. He shook my hand and everything.”

Athens and the Hall of Fame are two of Focht’s favorite memories, but he still enjoys the annual Friday night sports fest and victory dance held at the Multi-Sport complex as a social event for more than 2000 athletes following competitions during the day.

“One of my favorite parts about golf is meeting people from all different counties, and then I love coming here and seeing Penn State athletes, especially football players.”

In a different competition, Adam Garman and Trevor Chester are both part of a bowling team that took home a gold medal on Friday.

The two became good friends from their longtime involvement going back to age 8, like Focht. Garman is now 34-years-old while Chester is 38.

Outside of athletic competition, one of Chester’s finest moments is meeting Joe Paterno during his first year.

“We didn’t get to talk for a long time, but he shook my hand and told me to go for the gold,” said Chester. “It meant a lot to me.”

Later on, Garman also had the opportunity to meet Paterno and his wife Sue, reciting the Special Olympics oath with him.

The oath, in existence since the inaugural games in Chicago in 1968 reads:

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

One of Garman’s best memories is having his mom on hand to watch him win a gold medal during a previous year in bowling, but it came at a small price for his mother.

“They set up a dunk tank after the competition was over. I dunked her good,” said Garman.

Emily Mowery is Chester's niece and serves as a unified partner. The trio, along with Garman’s sister, make up the four-person team. Mowery’s job is to help the athletes and also bowl alongside them.

The four-person team will now be entered into a drawing for a chance to compete in the national games held next summer in New Jersey.

“My favorite thing about watching all of the athletes is everybody roots each other on,” said Mowery. “You can know you’re up against a team right next to you, and if they get a strike, everybody cheers them on.”

“In most other sports, you don’t cheer on your competitors, and seeing that happen here is pretty cool.”

Mowery has attended the annual summer games since she was a toddler to watch Chester. She's been volunteering for 10 years. Now a junior at Penn State, Mowery is majoring in elementary education with a minor in special education. Helping coach and volunteer at an event like this fits well with her career goals.

“It’s really special to be a part of and was a big influence in me picking up a special education minor.”



Drew Balis is a Penn State graduate, freelance reporter and frequent contributor to StateCollege.com.
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