Special Olympian picked to travel to '11 World Games
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 27, 2010 1:46 PM
Heather Pardue prepares to roll another frame, practicing her craft at AMF Boulevard Lanes on Berkeley Boulevard, just as she does at least several times a week. Her bowling talents will be taking her from Goldsboro to the Special Olympics Summer Games in Greece in June 2011.
Heather Pardue studied the pins at the end of the lane, picked up her 14-pound purple bowling ball and prepared to take aim.
Releasing the ball, it spun down the boards and knocked over the bulk of the black and white pins.
It wasn't a strike, but that didn't matter.
A smile broke out on her face as she walked back to await the ball return.
"Whether she gets a gutter ball or gets all the pins, she'll say, 'OK' -- the smile on her face when she competes is all that matters to me," said her mother, Donna Countryman.
Like any proud parent, Mrs. Countryman relishes in everything her daughter accomplishes.
Perhaps even more so, since Heather was born with Down syndrome.
"When I was pregnant, I asked the good Lord for a little girl with straight hair and blue eyes. I got the girl with the straight hair and the blue eyes," Mrs. Countryman said, a catch in her voice. "She's 34, and that's young in our lives, but for a person with Down syndrome, that's middle age and that's scary."
Every day is a gift, said Mrs. Countryman, who teaches at Edgewood Community Developmental School and became certified in coaching Special Olympians so she could better support her own child. She is certified in bowling, bocce, equestrian and aquatics. Heather also participates in basketball and track and field.
Special Olympics has been one of the highlights of Heather's life, picking up "too many to count" awards along the way, her mother said.
Describing her daughter is not difficult. Mrs. Countryman has invested much time observing Heather, paying attention to the nuances and subtleties that are not often expressed.
"She is a shy, softspoken young lady. She likes her independence and as long as she feels like she is pleasing someone, she's happy. It could be anything from taking the dishes out for mom and dad to making her own bed. She likes to be on the go, she loves shopping and she doesn't like sitting around doing nothing. She likes movies but make sure there's popcorn and soda right there ... She likes participating in activities, whether it's Special Olympics-related or family-related," she said. "Special Olympics has helped her self-esteem a lot."
It has been interesting to watch her flourish since discovering Special Olympics, Mrs. Countryman said.
"We figured out she's probably been in Special Olympics for 30 years. Officially she couldn't compete until she was 8," she said. "She wasn't involved as much when we lived in Florida and New York, but became more involved when we moved here (12 years ago).
"She didn't know how to swim until we started swimming in Special Olympics. I never thought she would get on a horse -- she is afraid of cats and dogs and animals, and a horse is bigger. Now she goes and grooms the horse and saddles the horse. She does everything but put the bit in his mouth."
Bowling is perhaps her favorite event. It's a hobby she started as a young child, when dad Harold ran the bowling alley at the Masonic Lodge.
"It was four lanes," Mrs. Countryman recalls. "A lot of times if I had meetings or whatever, Heather would go down to the bowling alley and (Harold) would let her roll a ball."
The effort has paid off, as Heather has gone on to win medals in the sport in the state events.
This summer, she was selected to travel to Athens, Greece, next summer for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
One of five athletes from across North Carolina to represent the U.S., she was chosen from out of 38,000 Special Olympians in the state.
Team USA will consist of about 300 athletes from all 50 states. Prior to the actual June 25-July 4 event, the team will go to training camp in San Diego March 28-April 1.
It's an exciting time for Heather, who was named Athlete of the Year for Wayne County this year, in the adult female division.
"I never thought she would be selected to go, so I have mixed emotions," Mrs. Countryman said. "I'm very proud of her being selected to go, anxious about her going because it's away from me -- even though I'm planing to be there -- flying on a plane for that length of time.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I don't think it will ever come again. That's really what made our decision."
Heather's travel will be paid for by Special Olympics N.C., but she still has to raise $3,000 for additional expenses.
"That goes for coaches and athletes because it's a volunteer organization," Mrs. Countryman explained. A website has been set up for contributions, at www.firstgiving.com/heatherpardue, or anyone interested can call Mrs. Countryman at 344-9017.
Those who know Heather are excited about the upcoming opportunity.
She herself is taking it all in stride, much like she does any other contest.
"It's too far off for her to understand," Mrs. Countryman said. "Once it gets closer and the excitement builds more, she'll get excited."
Heather continues to bowl every week at Boulevard Lanes, maintaining an average score of 100-110, her mother says.
"She trains for whatever competition and she loves it," she said. "She's not a strong competitor in any competition but she loves to compete. ... Does she truly understand what's going to happen? No, we don't think so right now. But I think she deserves to go. She won the opportunity and that's what we want her to do.
"I think if she understood and knew what was happening, she would want to go because she likes to go places and do things and be active."