Wednesday marks the start of Special Olympics Nebraska, with the summer games kicking off in Omaha.
Thirty-nine-year-old Dean Grosse of Fremont is among the athletes taking part. He’s got three sports, two of them starting Wednesday. “Skating and volleyball," he said. Then there’s “bowling,” on Thursday.
Grosse has been competing for the past 27-years, with his father, Walter Grosse, helping to coach him along the way. He said the pride he feels for his son is hard to put into words.
“At the international games, I was real proud to see Dean stand up there and get his second place medal. I tell ‘ya, it’ll put a lump in your throat, no doubt about it," he said.
But his son wouldn’t be able to hear those loving words very well without the help of a hearing aid he received seven years ago. Hearing and vision problems are common among the mentally challenged.
That’s why the organization Hear The World will be screening Nebraska’s Special Olympic athletes Friday. One in three, they anticipate, will have problems. And after further testing, the company Phonak will supply free hearing aids to those who require them.
“They're really doing a good job,” said Walter. “Because when you can't hear, you lose a little bit of your life. And it's the same thing with the eye sight.,” said the longtime Lions Club volunteer. “We've been lucky because we've been able to provide for him, but some parents can't."
That’s why the broader Healthy Athletes initiative exists within the Special Olympics, also providing vision screenings. The added services allows athletes like Dean to focus on what’s important.
"About half of it is the competing, but also half of it is the social part of it,” Dean’s father said. “Because you know they get to see their friends from year to year and they interact real good."
Dean couldn’t agree more. “Yeah, they cheer me on and say go dean and hope you win.” It makes him feel, “happy,” he said.
After the competition has ended, Dean will have something else to look forward to – his 40th birthday. He’ll be celebrating that milestone next month, along with his girlfriend who’s also turning 40 in June.
With the summer games already underway, the official opening ceremonies take place at T.D. Ameritrade Stadium Thursday night, with WOWT’s John Knicely as Master of Ceremonies.