A local man recently won gold at the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games in Princeton, New Jersey.
Rodney Driesenga, 25, of Conway, won a gold medal and two silver medals as well as an eighth place award when he competed in the national event. His first-place award was in the 800 meters. He won second place in the relay and the 400 meter. He came in eighth in the shot put competition.
He said, “On the 400, I was happy, on the relay, I was happy, and on the 800 I was happy. It was fun. I would go back.”
Driesenga was recommended and trained for the national games by his coach at Independent Living Services, Alicia Queen. He has been participating in Special Olympics Arkansas since he began attending day programs at ILS following his graduation from Conway High School in 2007.
Queen said, “I was worried about the 800, and he got the gold medal.”
Driesenga said, “Every time I got a medal I was thinking about Alicia.”
He noted his time out of state also involved some sightseeing.
“We went on a cruise, and I saw the Statue of Liberty and New York,” he said.
Queen, who serves as health and wellness instructor at ILS, said, “It’s not easy getting here. The first thing you have to do is train in the sport you’re passionate about. You have to go to sports camp. They watch them, kind of like recruiting. You get up at six in the morning and you don’t go to bed until about 11. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work.”
The annual Special Olympics Arkansas Sports Camp is held at John Brown University in Siloam Springs. Queen said coaches at the camp watch the athletes’ performance in a variety of sports and then choose two sports for them to focus on throughout the week at camp.
Driesenga said, “I took basketball, volleyball, soccer, flag football, power lifting and swimming. It’s fun when you go to sports camp. There’s no TV, no nothing up there. I’m going to save $150 and go back to sports camp.”
He works as a janitor at ILS, he said.
Queen said the Special Olympics World Games are in 2015 in Los Angeles.
“I think someone went from our area, probably 10 years ago,” she said. “If he keeps going to sports camps and excelling, he could qualify for that.
She continued, “I would encourage a lot more people to volunteer for Special Olympics. Seeing their faces … they try really hard.”
In honor of Driesenga’s victory, Edward Jones placed a message of congratulations on its scrolling marquee at Toad Suck Square for a few days.
Robert Wright, director of development for ILS, said, “We are extremely proud of Rodney, for all of his efforts, for all of his patience and for all of his hard work. Part of Special Olympics is being a good person. We’re proud of him not just as an athlete but as a person.”
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)