A Special Honor

MauiTimes was awarded by Special Olympics Hawaiʻi—but it’s all about the athletes

Watching Molokai’s Tommy Galane charge up and down the basketball court and take the ball to the cup elicits unbridled happiness. He plays with reckless abandon. He plays with passion. And most of all, he plays with joy.

“I love this, I love basketball,” said Molokai’s Tommy Galane. Photo by Jacob Shafer

The same can be said for all of the Maui Special Olympics athletes who traveled to Oʻahu in November to compete in bowling and basketball. 

I was invited, along with staff photographer Sean Michael Hower, because of a piece I wrote and he shot in May that highlighted three Valley Isle Special Olympics athletes—swimmers Jamey Burkett and Taralyn Fukushima, and bocce ball player James Thompson—and their journey to the national games in Orlando.

MauiTimes editor Jacob Shafer and staff photographer Sean Hower are honored by
Special Olympics. Photo by Sean M. Hower

Here’s the humble-brag part of the story—and I emphasize humble. Because this is about the athletes and the organization and the incredible work they do. But, here goes, MauiTimes was recognized at a closing awards ceremony as media partner of the year for our coverage of the athletes. 

It was gratifying. But not nearly as gratifying as watching these Special Olympians compete.

I’m on a school bus full to the brim, headed for Hickam Air Force Base. The excitement is palpable. Smiles are everywhere. The coaches and unified partners have their hands full, but the mood is electric. 

“This is such a wonderful thing for them,” said Adrienne Laurion, regional director for Special Olympics Hawai‘i. “And it’s so gratifying to help make it happen.”

Gratifying. Gratitude. These are words that roll through my mind as I watch these athletes smile and compete. There are highs and lows. There are frightening moments. At one point, during a hard-fought basketball game featuring the Maui delegation, an opposing player is slammed to the floor. His head bounces on the hardwood. The crowd grows silent. 

But Special Olympics is prepared with medical professionals who check on him and help him to his feet. Applause erupts. He regains his composure and re-enters the game to score a few more layups.

Mostly, the mood is jovial. The players quickly help each other off the floor. In the bowling competitions, opposing teams cheer for each other with full throats.

Athlete Ryan Behn, coach Scott Spring, and Unified Partner Libby Behn. Photo by Sean M. Hower

“I love this,” Galane told me after a loss in which he led the offense. “I love basketball.” Then he embraced me in a sweaty, wonderful hug.

This is the best of sports, stripped of pretense and ego. This is unbridled joy.

To recycle the cliche, they’re here for the love of the game.

If you want to mentor an athlete with intellectual disabilities, contact Adrienne Laurion: mauicounty@sohawaii.org 

Jacob Shafer