Reese Court was all smiles and jubilation. Particularly from a certain section.
Not just because Eastern Washington University men’s basketball handily defeated California State University, Northridge, on Sunday afternoon. But because in a few months, a select few in the stands would make the trek over the Cascades for their own shot at victory.
“I’m excited,” said 29-year-old Scott Tobin, minutes after hearing he’d been chosen to play in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. “Woo!”
Tobin and a group of his compatriots – Peter Condon, Bryce Barlow, Aaron Evans, Mariah Gilbert and Chase Riley – thought they were going to Sunday’s game to help fundraise for the Eastern Washington branch of the Olympics. Instead, they were met with the surprise announcement that they had been selected for a chance to represent Eastern Washington on one of the country’s highest stages.
To the roar of the crowd, the six athletes, decked out in prior medals won, waved and cheered as their names were announced. Tobin, who attended the national games in 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska, was selected this year for his stand-up job in stand-up paddleboarding, one of the newest additions to the list of competitive games.
Tobin said he’d never been on a paddleboard before this year, but that by the third time out in the water, he’d mastered the craft.
“Even though I practiced only twice, I got a gold medal,” he said of a competition back in June on Seattle’s Green Lake.
Brenda Devine, the northeast area director for Team Washington, said the six athletes would join about 130 statewide. The majority were on the newly formed stand-up paddleboarding team, though one was selected for bocce ball, another for golf.
Mariah Gilbert, one of Tobin’s paddleboarding teammates, said this is the first year she has qualified for the Olympics. Giving a large, magnetic smile, she said she was overwhelmingly surprised when the good news came.
“I just started paddleboarding this summer,” she said.
Her natural talent doesn’t start and stop at the water’s edge. Gilbert also qualified for bowling. The 18-year-old had to make a decision between which sport she would play in July.
“Now you have to choose,” Devine said to Gilbert after breaking the news.
“Ugh. Why?” Gilbert said. “I guess I’ll go with paddleboarding.”
Tobin, who has won medals in statewide and regional competitions in track and field, said of all things he likes most about the Special Olympics, “competition, being excited, friendship and playing fair” took the cake.
He should know. He’s done this before.
“I’m surprised,” he said. “I’m excited.”
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