One of the many great aspects about Special Olympics Missouri is how it breaks down stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities.
Nobody is more emblematic of just how well our athletes can smash through those stereotypes with hard work and persistence than Southeast Area athlete Logan Gardner.
‘Continued to fight’
Gardner, 20, was playing sports with younger athletes in Sikeston because of his size until he was 15. That was until his mother Melody heard about Special Olympics Missouri.
“In Logan’s earlier years, it was hard,” Melody said regarding what it’s been like raising a child with special needs. “Logan had to have someone with him at all times. Logan struggled in school and the local community.
“But we continued to fight for him and let people know that Logan was a person as well and we weren’t going to sit back and let him be excluded. We continued to put him in sports and over time people have come to know him and accept him no matter what.”
Not only has SOMO taught Logan the meaning of sportsmanship and acceptance, but what is needed to excel in life disability or no.
Positivity is key
“Logan has grown and developed into a wonderful athlete that gives 110 percent,” Melody said. “He is a very positive person.”
The positivity is something others, including his coaches, have caught onto.
“He’s just one of the friendliest and happiest athletes we’ve got,” said bowling coach Peggy Berryhill. “He always wants to be around everybody. … He loves to joke around and always has a high-five for everybody no matter what’s going on.”
She said he’s always willing to listen to what you have to say even if he doesn’t always do what he’s told.
“He’s pretty hard-headed,” Berryhill, his coach of four years, said with a laugh. “He knows what he wants to do, but he’s very determined to stick with whatever is placed in front of him.”
Track and field coach Stan Smith said he would categorize Gardner as “squirrely.”
“He’s enthusiastic about doing things,” Smith said. “I’ve always found him friendly and willing to listen. He’s a lot of fun. … He’s real fun-loving – he jokes around with the guys.”
‘Willing to help’
Southeast Area Development Director Penny Williams said Gardner is one of the best multi-sport athletes in the area citing that he participates in basketball, bowling, softball, track and field and tennis.
“He is a team leader among all of his teammates. Logan is a very kind-hearted person who has given as much to the program as much as the program has given to him,” Williams said. “He is always willing to help in any way that he can. His kind attitude becomes reflected in everyone he comes in contact with.”
One such way that Gardner shows his dedication in giving back to the program that serves him is by taking part in the annual Polar Plunge in Cape Girardeau as a part of the Sikeston Guns N Hose team.
When they first heard about the Plunge four years ago, Melody said they thought it was a great way “for Logan to show others that athletes can give back just as much as anyone.”
“So we rallied together and took the chance,” she said. “He loved it and this year was the only athlete in our local area to Plunge.”
Gardner said he Plunges because “it’s fun,” but has no shame in admitting it’s “cold, cold water.”
As much as Gardner loves competing in sports, especially his favorite sport bowling, there might be one thing he enjoys even more.
“He enjoys his sports,” Berryhill said, “but he has a good time at the dance; he loves to dance.”
Because, Gardner said, they allow him to “party all night long.”