How I Was Inspired By…The Special Olympics

Brea athlete Jeff Scott, 47, and his mother Roseann, on the power of going for the gold
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Photograph by Melissa Valladares

Jeff: I’ve been in Special Olympics since 1982.
Roseann: So he’s been in the California Special Olympics twice a year since he started.
Jeff: I went to four of the World Games. In ’90, I went to North Carolina for basketball. Took bronze. In ’91 in Minneapolis, I did the track and field, the pentathlon. I took the silver. In 2011, I went to Athens, Greece, took the silver in tennis in singles. I took fourth in doubles. Then in 2015, I went to Los Angeles, took the gold in doubles and took the bronze in singles in tennis.
Roseann: He still holds the high-jump record.
Jeff: And it’s 6 feet, 4 inches. That’s when I was 22. I do other different sports. Now I play tennis, but I did basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, and floor hockey. I did cross-country running and alpine skiing.
Roseann: Jeff was born with a clubfoot, and he needed orthopedic care. He’s become such a dedicated athlete. We really don’t know what caused Jeff’s brain damage, but we determined it was oxygen deprivation. I had a very long labor and it was a forceps delivery, and when he was born he was badly bruised. The Special Olympics has been very good to Jeff. He has a really good network of friends.
Jeff: And memories.
Roseann: He has all these years of experience, and the coaches rely on him to help out and inspire the younger ones who are struggling with competition.
Jeff: It makes me feel great. I want to prove that anyone can do it if I can do it. At the World Games in 2015, I could say to the other athletes, “I know what you’re going through, but you have to listen to me because I’ve been there and I’ve seen it happen.” And they listen to me. See, I’ve done amazing things with Special Olympics. I went to Africa for a month, and I climbed the Kilimanjaro.
Roseann: It was 1990. You were 21. They were trying to put together a group of Special Olympics athletes who might qualify to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. They had to do some training, climb some of the local mountains, and go through physicals. Then they climbed Kilimanjaro. They encountered an unexpected snowstorm, and when they got to the final climb to the summit they only had five athletes they felt could make it. And Jeff was one of them.
Jeff: One of the five.
Roseann: It brings tears to my eyes every time I see the video of him at the summit. And Jeff’s crying right now, I can tell you.
Jeff: Well, to do the climb, it was a challenge. What they say (in Swahili) is pole pole. That means you have to go slowly and steadily, to respect the mountain, because if you don’t you won’t make it.
Roseann: When he commits to something, he commits completely. We’re all extremely proud of him because he still works a full-time job that he’s had for 12 years now, and he’s able to do a good job at work and also commit to preparing for the World Games.
Jeff: I’m a custodian at the County of Orange. I do everything, and I’ve been cross-trained so that I can do other people’s assignments.
Roseann: They clean a million square feet in Santa Ana’s judicial district. They have more than 40 people and they’re a big family. They’re your second family.
Jeff: I call it a second home. And I just love being in the Special Olympics. That’s my goal in the future, to become a Special Olympics coach. But now I’m an athlete, and everyone knows my partner and I. It’s always, “Oh, here’s Jeff and Paul (Hoffman),” and “I wish I could be just like Jeff and Paul,” because we are awesome tennis partners and we’ve been winning medals in doubles for the last six years. None of these other athletes has been beating us yet. But I’d like them to. Hopefully one day they’ll beat us, just to give us good competition.

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