NEWBERRY — Not many people can say they won gold at the Olympics but Todd Johnson and his son Andrew are two people who can say just that after winning gold in golf at the North American Special Olympics.
Johnson, chief deputy for the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office, and Andrew have competed at the state level for around five or six years.
“A couple of months ago, our area director for Special Olympics Shelby Thomas called me and asked if she put us into the North American Special Olympics Games would we go. They were in Seattle and I said we would go if we were selected,” said Johnson.
About two weeks later, Thomas called Johnson and said that he and Andrew were selected to go to the North American Special Olympics, which consists of participants from the United States and Canada.
Johnson and Andrew competed in golf, where there were a variety of styles in which to compete.
“They have a nine hole, where the athlete, the person involved in Special Olympics, plays by themselves and the nine hole where the athlete and a partner alternate shots. They also have an 18 hole where the athlete plays by themselves and 18 hole with the athlete and partner alternate shots, which is what Andrew and I participated in,” said Johnson.
There was also a skills levels that involves basic golf skills such as putting and chipping. There were multiple representative from South Carolina in all the divisions.
To get to the Special Olympics, participants had to play on the state level, but a certain number of hours also has to be logged. Johnson is considered Andrew’s coach, and together they work on golf skills and understanding the etiquette of the game, from manners to good sportsmanship.
Johnson said that between the two of them, Andrew has the better golf game.
“Andrew has a beautiful swing. He played golf at Newberry High School for a couple of years. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Amy Boozer. She spent a countless number of hours with Andrew, working with him and working on his swing. She’s had a tremendous impact in Andrew’s life,” said Johnson. “The biggest thing when working with someone who has been diagnosed with a special need of any sort is gaining their trust. I believe that God blesses anyone who was diagnosed with a special need with an innate ability to sense who they can trust and who they can’t, so if you can get them to trust you, you can do great things.”
Johnson also said that compared to competitions where there’s anger and frustration, everyone at the Special Olympics cheers for one another.
“There are no losers at Special Olympics. Everyone is cheering and helping each other. It’s much different that what you normally see in society. The desire to win is most definitely there, but those who don’t win get over it much quicker than most competitions,” said Johnson.
Johnson and his wife were told that Andrew would never live, walk or talk.
“We were told that if he could ever walk, he would be walking in braces and would never be able to move around as a ‘normal’ child. He’s had to face numerous battles and was in hospitals for extended periods of time. So to see this kind of result is absolute proof that they say they have no clue what God is going to do. When you’ve been in there for the whole journey, it means so much more,” said Johnson. “It was special for Andrew, but it was something he, his mom and I will treasure forever. The bonding time was incredible as well.”
Johnson said that thanks has to be given to the many employees at the Whitmire Golf Course, Billy Lollis and Ron Harsha who have taken Andrew under their wing and have served as exceptional role models for Andrew to follow.
“We also just want to thank our family and church family for always supporting Andrew and helping us make this trip possible and to Sheriff Foster who is always supportive,” said Johnson.
Reach Kelly Duncan at 803-768-3123 ext. 1868 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.