HealthLinks Upstate Sept/Oct 2022

60 | www.Ups tatePhys i c i ansSC . com | www.Hea l thL i nksUps tate. com HEALTHL INKS IS PROUD TO PARTNER WITH THESE CHARLESTON AREA NONPROFITS A SPECIAL OLYMPIAN GETS HIS CHANCE It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact the Special Olympics can have on the life of an athlete with an intellectual disability. Just ask Rion Holcombe about the excitement of athletic achievement and the joy of pomp and ceremony. The Spartanburg-based Special Olympic bronze medalist in the 100-meter individual medley swim will tell you. But first: a definition. The Special Olympics was started in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who grew up with a beloved sister with an intellectual disability. Shriver understood the challenges faced by children like her sister and wanted to make things better. She opened a summer camp, focusing on athletics and fun and pairing special-needs campers with counselors from area high schools and colleges. She broke down barriers between the groups, showing that special-needs children had much to contribute to the world. By doing so, she launched a movement that would revolutionize the world for people just like Rion Holcombe. Rion is 28 years old. He has Downs syndrome and a contagious personality. To talk to Rion and his mother, Susan Holcombe, is to be delighted by the stories they tell seamlessly together, starting and finishing each other’s sentences. Their mutual devotion is palpable. Take the story of how Rion became a swimmer. “My mom taught me in the bathtub,” said Rion, laughing. Susan giggled. The real story is slightly different. Rion was 7 years old and prone to wandering off. “I had to watch him like a hawk,” said Susan. It was her birthday on an unseasonably warm February day. Rion wanted to swim in the neighbor’s pool, but it wasn’t quite that warm. Susan said no. Midway through the afternoon, she said, “I’d just gotten into the bathtub, and I was all relaxed, and I heard the front door slam. I thought he was leaving, so I got out of the tub, ready to chase him down. But Rion, what did I find at the bottom of the stairs?” He laughs too hard to answer. “I found a naked little boy, shivering.” Rion had snuck out while the bathwater was running and walked next door. “I took off my clothes and got in the pool,” he admitted. The neighbor wasn’t home but later found evidence of Rion’s transgression: shorts, underwear and two right shoes. “Well, I knew right then I had to get him swimming,” Susan related. They joined their neighborhood pool, and Rion watched the other children swim. People with Downs syndrome are good mimics, and Rion proved that, learning by observing and By Leah Rhyne