THS grad sports interest in athletics
Rickey Danberry is mentally disabled, but all he ever wanted was the opportunity to participate.
While some may have seen his disability as a hindering roadblock, both he and his parents knew it was only a challenging obstacle that, with some maneuvering, they would overcome.
When Rickey was 8, he got involved with the Special Olympics and finally got his chance to be the kind of athlete and team player he always wanted.
Most recently, the 22-year-old Basehor resident, who is a 2003 Tonganoxie High School graduate, traveled to Ames, Iowa, to compete in the first-ever Special Olympics USA National Games.
He placed sixth in the relay event and fifth in both the 100 and 200-meter races. While the ribbons he received will always be a special reminder of his success, both he and his mother, Mindy Danberry, agree that it was the friends and the feeling of belonging that made the experience worthwhile.
"The opportunity that he's gotten through this has really been tremendous," Mindy said. "What we get out of it is seeing him develop and mature as an adult."
There were 52 Special Olympics programs from across the country that participated in the national games July 2-7. Kansas sent 61 athletes to compete in nine of the possible 14 different sports. Rickey was one of the 12 Kansas athletes to compete in track and field.
"The purpose of the games is to show what individuals with intellectual disabilities can do on the playing field as a way of promoting the person rather than the disability," said Tim Rehder, vice president of sports and competition for Kansas Special Olympics.
Rehder said the national games would give the thousands of special athletes across the country the venue to come together and show off what they can do. He said the competition also gave them a chance to travel and experience something new.
During the 14 years that Rickey has competed, he's tried many different sports. He said track was his favorite, but he still really liked playing basketball, football, bowling and baseball as well. In the future, he said he might even like to try boxing or swimming.
The motivation that Rickey said has kept him competing has been the support of his parents. He also said that he kept going back because he has fun and liked how sports made him feel active.
Rickey said he really enjoyed the games "because you meet a lot of new friends and you get to know everybody and you compete with them."
He is dedicated to keeping in touch with the friends that he's met at the competitions. He said he talks to some on the phone and talks to others through e-mail or Internet chat rooms.
"Once he knows you, you have a friend for a lifetime," Mindy said.
Through the years Mindy said she has noticed a change in her son's demeanor. She said his participation in the Special Olympics has made him more confident in himself.
"Oh, he's become a lot more outgoing and friendly," she said. "For years and years and years growing up he was very shy."
But even though he was shy, Mindy said that growing up her son was "all boy."
"He was full of energy as boys are," she said with a laugh.
In addition to playing sports for the Special Olympics, Rickey said he liked playing video games and roaming the neighborhood. He also said that listening to music was one of his favorite pastimes.
He joked that he liked "country, rap, and any kind of stuff that my dad doesn't like."
Mindy said that she hoped competitions like the Special Olympics games would help people realize that having a mental disability did not inhibit a person from still being out in the community and living a normal happy life.
She said one of her goals was to get "people in the community to feel more comfortable with being around people with special needs."
She said she always hopes to see more than just close family of the athletes at the competitions and encourages people from within the community to show their support as well.
"The whole reason they do it is to bring awareness to inclusion," she said.