Jeremy Campbell held a state record in power lifting for three years, and he's the "home run king" of his softball team.
But on this humid Salt Lake afternoon, Campbell is coming up big on the golf course. Eighteen holes into a 36-hole competition, Campbell, of Taylorsville, is in first place. Not a surprise to his caddy dad, who, though he's been golfing for 30 years, still can't explode with a 5-iron the way his son can.And on the first day of the Utah Special Olympics golf competition at Mulligans Golf Course in Riverton, Campbell, who has autism, is in first place with an 83.
In all, 60 athletes from all over Utah competed Tuesday and Wednesday in the golf competition. It was the first time Special Olympics officials held the competition separate from other sports. Executive director JD Donnelly says golf was becoming so popular, athletes were having to choose between it and other sports during the organization's annual fall games.
This way, it's all golf, all day.
"It's a very popular sport with everybody nowadays," Donnelly said. "And it's a great family sport."
This week's competition includes the two-day, 18-hole individual event, a 9-hole competition, "unified" play where a Special Olympic athlete pairs with a parent or friend, and the skills course, which includes chipping and putting.
Kala Stoddard, 11, missed a day of sixth grade at Stewart Elementary in Centerville to participate in the skills course. In addition to golf, she swims, ice skates and even plays city league fast-pitch with other children her age. Her mom, Miki, says Special Olympics gives Kala a chance to make friends with people like her.
"It's important for her," Miki Stoddard says. "It gives her the opportunity to socialize with kids who can relate to her, and it keeps her active."
Special Olympics Utah offers 17 sports for people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. Golf was first tried in a Special Olympics clinic in Utah in 1990, Donnelly said. Today, athletes from 15 countries participate in golf.
Brock Mair, 23, of Stansbury Park, started golfing when he was 8. He says it is his favorite sport, though swimming is probably the sport he's best at. Tony Marino, 26, chipped in a birdie Tuesday during the 18-hole competition. But it's powerlifting that will take him to the Special Olympic world games in North Carolina next year. A 395-pound lift won him the gold medal at the Utah games.
Last year, Campbell just missed the bronze medal at the world games in Connecticut. He, too, will travel to North Carolina for international competition next year, which couldn't make his dad happier.
"The Special Olympics have been a big part of our lives," Delton Campbell said Tuesday. "I can't believe the growth he has made."