Jeffrey began his athletic career with the Special Olympics Escambia County fifteen years ago while he was attending Escambia Westgate, now he counts soccer, basketball and softball as his favorite activities.
“I like to try different sports,” he said.
Since then, not only has he participated in multiple sports, but has started a sailing team with his father, Friedrich. He is also a part of the Athlete Leadership Program, where he acts a spokesperson for Special Olympics, raising awareness for the need of volunteers, coaches and athletes.
Woods, 24, only gets “a little bit nervous” speaking in front of groups of people. As his dad said, he doesn’t know a stranger. Jeffrey is very sociable and talks with a wide smile. The leadership program has helped him develop as an adult.
“It’s the fear of most parents—what’s going to happen to them when I’m gone,” said Friedrich.
Friedrich’s work with Special Olympics started out small. Just like Jeffrey, as the years continued his involvement increased.
“I started as a parent and observer, just as an ember starts a big flame,” he said. “I would help set up and then became an official volunteer, then I was trained to be an official coach and I ended up coaching basketball, softball, bowling and bocce. Then we started the sailing program five years ago.”
No matter how much time they have to give, volunteers (especially drivers) are always welcome.
“That’s possibly the biggest challenge,” Friedrich said of transportation. “Less than 20 percent of eligible athletes are involved with Special Olympics.”
As important as it is for kids of all ages and abilities to be active, it is equally important to exercise their mind.
“It’s as much of a social event as an athletic event, there’s as much joy as seeing their friends,” Friedrich said.
The year-round sports and activities instill a can-do attitude.
“They test their limits,” Friedrich said. “A lot of athletes say ‘I can’t run,’ end up sprinting 50 yards. They can do it. It just takes a little work.”
The Special Olympic games are scored much like any game; there is no special treatment.
“It’s very professional, very similar to real Olympics,” said Friedrich. “They don’t change the rules. In softball, if you have three strikes, you’re out.”
This gives athletes another reason to feel like they’re any other kid. Losing may happen, but that’s part of the sport.
“I don’t mind,” Jeffrey said of the possibility of losing. “It’s good to be challenged.”
Athletes must be eight years old or older to participate in Special Olympics, after that it’s pretty limitless. The oldest athlete now is 82. Jeffrey said he sees himself participating just as long.
Already, his fifteen-year involvement has earned him plenty of awards.
“I got a couple,” Jeffrey said.
“A couple? For a while you looked like Mr. T,” Friedrich said to Jeffrey. “You must have 20 different medals.”
As athletes learn to socialize and lead healthy, active lives they grow up—just like any kid—to learn purpose and responsibility.
“Jeffrey goes through all the same learning and growing as any other kid,” Friedrich said. “He went out and got his own job at AutoZone, filled out the application. It springs from the encouragement from Special Olympics.”
SPECIAL OLYMPICS ESCAMBIA COUNTY
AQUATICS: 8 a.m. Saturdays until October at the Aquatic Center at University of West Florida 11000 University Pkwy. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
BASKETBALL: Saturday mornings at Corry Station, 640 Roberts Ave. Contact email@example.com for more information.
BOWLING: 6 p.m. on Wednesdays at Cordova Lanes, 2111 Airport Blvd. and 10 a.m. on Saturdays at Liberty Lanes, 3200 N. Palafox St. Bowling season concludes with area competition on September 24. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for more information.
GOLF: 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays at Stonebrook Golf Club, 3200 Cobblestone Drive, Pace and Tanglewood Golf Course, 5916 Tanglewood Drive, Milton. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
GYMNASTICS: Rhythmic begins at 5:30 p.m. and artistic begins at 6:30 p.m. Fridays starting August 17 at First City Gym, 65 E. Olive Road. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
SAILING: Saturdays at NAS Marina. Contact email@example.com for more information.
TENNIS: 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at Pensacourt, 3001 Langley Ave. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.