FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. – No doubt 34-year-old Special Olympics athlete Mike Woods has next Friday's date memorized. That’s when he plans to blow away the competition at the Florida’s State Summer Games in the sport of bocce.
Bocce : A game that dates back to the ancient Olympic Games. The basic principle of the sport is to roll a bocce ball closest to a target ball. Next to soccer and golf, bocce is the third-most participated sport in the world.
He is also good at bowling, but his passion is golf.
“I like it because it’s outdoors,“ Mike said.
His golf coach reveals that all of Mike’s advancements in sports have helped teach him to tackle life’s toughest challenges head-on.
“He’s very determined,“ said Robbin Fuller, head coach for Clay County Special Olympics Golf. “He wants to do the best he can do at all times, and everything that he does.“
The spoils of Mike’s successes adorn his bedroom wall. He proudly showed off his nearly 20 gold and silver medals, along with pictures documenting all the fun Mike has had in his 16 years participating in the Special Olympics.
“He’s doing fantastic,“ Marks' mother, Bridget Schlattner, said. “I am very proud for the young man he became.”
Mike wasn’t outgoing when he first joined the Special Olympics. His mother became a special education teacher after Mike was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. The two moved to the U.S. from Germany while Mike was in grade school.
“It was difficult for him,” Bridget recalled.
Like other parents, Bridget got Mike involved in sports. the Special Olympics. She said getting him into the program was one of the best decisions she ever made.
“Over time, he really opened up,” Bridget said. “He got a lot of confidence, he got very competitive with his golf, and he now is a person who has his own mind, who can talk about things, who is able to talk to other athletes and adults, and really enjoys the Special Olympics.”
With that increasing confidence came camaraderie’ at school, as well as through different jobs Mike has held over the years.
He now works at the V Pizza in Fleming Island and his co-workers love him.
“He runs circles around us here,” Mike’s manager, Tina Peterson, said.
“It’s exciting, I can say, every day when we see him walk in. We know it’s going to be a good shift," Peterson said.
From busing tables to delivering food to hungry customers to wiping down restaurant booths, Mike doesn’t miss a beat.
We asked what he likes most about working at the restaurant.
“I like to try the pizza sometimes,” Mike said.
Local and state law enforcement volunteers are special Olympians like Mike by participating in the annual Torch Run for Florida, raising donations while carrying the Special Olympics Flame of Hope throughout the state.
The excitement culminates in one week when Florida’s State Summer Games begin in Orlando.
Last year alone, $37,735 was raised, according to Ronna Smith, who spearheads the Clay County Special Olympics, which supports about 15 different sporting events.
There are costs associated with each of them, including travel, competitions, meals and facilities.
"Each of those sports have a ‘final competition,’ in which athletes, coaches and chaperones have those items provided, free of cost," Smith said.
This year, the nonprofit has added two more sports and hopes to raise about $55,000.
“We also have a united volleyball team, and a track and field athlete attending the national games in Seattle, Washington, July 1-7,“ Smith said. “That is an additional $15,400 on top of our normal budget.“
There you can also find out how to attend the CCSO’s awards banquet coming up on June 9, and check out their events calendar.