NEWBERRY — Whitmire resident Todd Johnson and his son Andrew Johnson returned to Newberry victorious after winning the silver medal in golf at the USA Special Olympics Games held in Seattle, Washington from June 30-July 7.
Before the competition started, Johnson said the whole experience was overwhelming, from marching out onto the field, which was covered by ABC, to meeting celebrities like Mike Pereira, former director of NFL Officials and Fox Sports analyst, wrestlers Mark Henry and Charlotte Flair, professional golfer Jordan Spieth and LPGA golfer I.K. Kim.
Once the father-son duo hit the course, Todd Johnson said while his son played well, he couldn’t say the same for himself.
“Andrew played fantastic, I struggled a little bit. The greens were lightning fast compared to how we play here, the fairways were pretty narrow and it was a tough golf course. Andrew played extremely well all three days so we’re very proud of him,” he said.
Between the father-son duo, Andrew Johnson said he has the better golf game.
“I can hit the ball a lot further, hit it closer to the hole, and putt better,” he said.
Throughout the competition the father and son were partnered with teams from various states.
“They match you with people from other states because some of the experience is to meet people and to find out that people are the same all over. That Monday we played with a team from Maryland, Tuesday we played with a team from Rhode Island and on Wednesday we played with a team from Indiana,” Todd Johnson said. “No other circumstance other than Special Olympics could you meet people like that and enjoy the experience. What I saw continually was there was a spirit of competition, everybody wanted to do well, but everybody picked each other up when they were having a rough time and everybody loved each other, when the competition was over it was a true spirit of fellowship and companionship, there was no bitterness and anger, the things you have come to associate competition with, I think that’s so cool.”
Andrew Johnson agreed, adding that meeting people throughout the Games was exciting.
“It was exciting and fun to meet new people from all over the country. We liked a lot of the people we met,” he said.
Todd Johnson added that fellowship and companionship is something that even non-special needs people can learn from.
“Their motto is ‘let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the effort,’ I just think that is so cool, everybody doesn’t get a trophy and that’s okay, as long as you try your best and maybe non-special needs people can learn from that kind of spirit of competition, where if you don’t win it’s okay,” he said.
For Todd Johnson, it wasn’t just about winning the silver medal, it was about the journey.
“A lot of people, when they see Andrew and they see me beaming, they think I’m beaming because of the medal and I am, but I’m also beaming because we have been there for the journey. I was there when the doctor said he wasn’t going to live, I was there when he said he wasn’t going to walk, I was there when he said he would never talk, I was there when they said he would never function in society and that he needed to be put in an institution,” Johnson said. “It means a million times more than just seeing a medal, when you’ve been along for the whole ride you appreciate it a lot more.”
He credited the Disabilities and Special Needs Board, Ruth Pugh Foundation and community members that have showed their support, saying none of this would be possible without them.
The next USA Special Olympics Games will be held in 2022 in Orlando, Florida and Todd Johnson said his son has decided he is going to play solo.
“They have individual and unified, we played unified this time, but it was our last time together as a team and I enjoyed it so much and I’m so proud of Andrew, but he’s become a much better golfer than I am. He is going to play what’s called Level Five which will be individual,” he said. “I’ll get to be his coach and his caddie and I’ll be just as proud in that as I was being his partner. We definitely hope he will go to the Olympics in 2022.”
Andrew Johnson said the whole experience was exciting and fun with this being the last time he plays with his dad. His favorite memory from the Games was meeting Jordan Spieth along with meeting new people and bragging about his game.
Reach Kelly Duncan at 803-768-3123 ext. 1868 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.