The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

January 31, 2011

Redefining Special

Herald-Banner Staff

COMMERCE — Some people might say that Schelly Porter is “special,” and to a certain extent, they would be right, but the definition of special refers to Porter in more ways than just the one.

Porter was born with Down Syndrome, but doesn’t let that keep her from dreaming or pursuing those dreams.

She is currently a volunteer with the Commerce Fire Department, works as a people greeter at Wal-Mart in Commerce and every Thursday night she bowls on the ladies league at DB’s Sports Grill and Bowling in Greenville. Her dream is to be a flight paramedic.

“That’s my dream,” said Porter. “My goal I’m gonna work on.”

Porter’s activities and dreams alone would keep most people busy, but not Porter.

Currently 35, Porter has been involved in the Special Olympics since she was 15 years old. She’s been in athletics, aquatics, bowling, bocce, softball, basketball and volleyball, and will soon be adding golf to the list.

She is currently a certified coach in athletics, bocce and unified. In fact, she and her sister, Lindy Hammons, who is a certified Special Olympics coach, will soon be traveling to Reno, Nev., to bowl in a unified event there in March. A unified event is one in which a Special Olympics athlete is paired with an athlete without disabilities.

“People don’t realize how many different opportunities there are in the Special Olympics,” said Sue Porter, Schelly’s mom and occasionally, her SO coach. “They offer cycling, equestrian, figure skating, floor hockey, gymnastics, kayaking, powerlifting, roller skating, sailing, soccer, speed skating, table tennis … the list just goes on and on.”

Porter’s favorite sport she’s participated in so far is bowling, though she’s really excited to start golf. In fact, Porter went to the 2010 National Games in Lincoln, Neb., where she and her doubles partner, Heather, won gold medals wielding their skills with a bowling ball.

Through the Special Olympics, Schelly has had the opportunity to travel and meet people from all over the world. In fact, in 2007 she was chosen to be a member of Team USA, competing at the World Games in Shanghai, China. Porter was one of four girls on the team, all from different states.

“We had a host family while we were in China,” said Porter. “We would eat there for lunch and we learned to make dumplings.”

Porter spent three weeks in China, one week spent in host town, where the athletes were immersed in the culture and custom of the people.

“Host town was one of my favorite parts about the trip,” she said. “It was amazing getting to meet so many new and different people.”

Sue credits the Special Olympics  with granting Schelly the opportunities she’s had.

“She has met so many wonderful people from all over the world,” said Sue. “She’s even met celebrities, though she often loses their autographs later. She’s got pictures, though. Yes, it’s because of her disability that she’s received these opportunities, but it’s all due to the Special Olympics that these opportunities are even out there. Texas has the best Special Olympics program in the United States.”

According to Sue, participating in SO events can get costly. In fact, athletes were required to raise $2,500 to go to the World Games in China.

“It’s like everything else, people are not donating as much so it’s getting harder,” said Sue. “If it weren’t for Rick Kohn and all he does with the Comedy Talent Showcase and the car show, we would not be able to go to state. He provides yearly funds for us to take our bowling team and bocce teams to state. Before he started doing that, we didn’t go because we couldn’t raise the funds.”

Even when the team couldn’t afford to travel to state, Sue took money out of her pocket to ensure her daughter, at least, got the chance to compete, giving Porter quite the pile of silver, gold and bronze medals from the past 20-plus years.

“She’s been to at least one state competition each year since she’s been participating and some years she’s been to two,” said Sue. “It’s all about instilling confidence in the athletes and them feeling good about their performance. The Special Olympics really fills a need for these athletes.”

Porter and the other Hunt County Special Olympics athletes will be doing their parts to raise funds for the HCSO during the eighth annual Comedy Talent Showcase, set for Feb. 19 in the Greenville High School auditorium.

“I’m gonna be one of Robert McCutchen’s ‘shakers,’” said Porter with a laugh. “That’s so much fun.”

All money raised during the Comedy Talent Showcase goes toward funding athletes, like Porter, competing in local area and state games.

“Bring your billfold with lots of money in it, that’s all I can say,” said Sue. “Once you get them there the first time, they come back every year. There’s nothing quite as funny as those grown men dressing like women and acting foolish for a good cause. They have fun, the athletes have a blast and the crowd really seems to love the show.”