06/20/11 — Special Olympics athlete heading to Greece for Games

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Special Olympics athlete heading to Greece for Games

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 20, 2011 1:46 PM

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Special Olympian Heather Pardue packs for a trip to Greece, where she will compete in the Special Olympics as a bowler.

Donna Countryman's mailbox has been flooded with correspondence all week from Special Olympics, offering last-minute instructions about the upcoming World Games in Greece, where her daughter, Heather Pardue, will be participating in events.

Among items included was a list of things to pack in the Special Olympics-issued luggage provided for members of Team USA.

Uniforms? Check.

"Loudmouth shorts?" Check.

Pins to exchange with other athletes? Check.

Bowling ball? Check.

Yes, Heather's signature 12-pound purple bowling ball figures prominently into the two-week trip.

The veteran Special Olympian has participated in events for most of her 35 years, officially able to compete when she turned 8. In the 12 years since her family moved to Goldsboro, she has amassed numerous state medals in bocce, horseback riding, aquatics, bowling and basketball. Through Special Olympics Wayne County, she earned additional awards in track and field.

Bowling is her favorite event, though.

"You know where it all started, don't you?" dad Harold Countryman asked, proudly.

In Heather's youth, Countryman ran the four-lane bowling center for the Masonic Lodge in St. Johnsville, N.Y. One night, while his wife attended a meeting, Heather picked up a ball and rolled it down the lane.

The interest blossomed and her success in the sport led to her being chosen to participate in the 2011 Special Olympics World Games. She is one of five athletes from North Carolina, selected from among 38,000 Special Olympians for the honor.

Team USA is made up of 400 athletes. At the June 25-July 4 World Games, 185 countries will be represented by 7,000 athletes, participating in 21 sports.

The festivities already began on Friday, when the Countryman family attended a send-off dinner in Raleigh for families of the state's athletes.

Heather left Saturday with the N.C. contingent, then met up with the rest of Team USA in Baltimore. They were scheduled to fly to Greece Sunday.

"They're going to be on the island of Rhodes," Mrs. Countryman said. "Heather will be staying with a family there."

Making her way to Athens for the competition entails a 12-hour ferry ride, she added. Opening ceremonies will be held on June 25 and events begin the following day.

"ESPN3 will air opening and closing ceremonies (July 4)," Mrs. Countryman said.

Heather will compete in singles, doubles and team events in bowling, her mother said.

Just don't ask about recent news reports of protests and unrest in Greece. Mrs. Countryman said she's trying not to worry about that, but it's hard since friends and family have also heard the reports and expressed concern.

Special Olympics has been reassuring, issuing a press release about the current situation.

"All Heads of Delegation to the World Summer Games in Athens have been told that the Greek government has negotiated a no-strike time period during the World Games with various labor unions," the online release said.

"The same agreement was in place during the 2004 Olympics Games in Athens and it was adhered to with no problems."

At least Mrs. Countryman won't be a continent away while her daughter is there. She decided early on to make the trip as well, and will fly out on Monday.

Of course, while Heather's expenses were taken care of, Mrs. Countryman had to pay her own way.

"A lot of support, a lot of friends and family helped to do that," she said.

And while the educator -- she teaches at Edgewood Community Developmental School -- is excited about going to Greece and seeing the World Games, it's also about proudly supporting her daughter.

"Going as a parent, not as a coach, I get to be the parent that can sit back and be a spectator and see different events that I have never been able to see," she said.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she said, for which the family is most grateful.

"Special Olympics has done everything for her -- uniforms, luggage, tickets," Mrs. Countryman said of the latest trip. "We just had to set up First Giving, a fundraising website online. Every athlete had to do their own fundraising page and send it out to their friends and families.

"They only had to really raise $1,000 for their own part of it."

If she had been unsuccessful in securing that amount in donations, Mrs. Countryman said the funding would have come from Special Olympics Wayne County. That didn't happen, though, and no money had to be used from the local chapter.

Also, she noted, anything above the $1,000 amount goes to Special Olympics N.C. and ultimately could benefit other athletes, Mrs. Countryman said. So when a family member suggested she increase the goal, she decided to set Heather's goal at $3,000.

As of this past week, the effort has brought in online donations of $2,019.

"It's been interesting -- people you don't even know giving," she said. "It doesn't have anything to do with us as a family. It goes to the Special Olympics athletes.

"(Special Olympics) disperses it into other things, like helping athletes that may not be able to raise funds."

Local support has also been impressive, and much appreciated, Mrs. Countryman said.

"We have had yard sales, 50/50 drawings at the bowling alley, the church did a luncheon," she said, referring to First Baptist of Goldsboro, where the family are members. "They have been overly generous. That's what helped get us to Greece."

To follow the World Games, go online to specialolympicsteamusa.org or athens2011.org. For more information on donations to Special Olympics, visit firstgiving.com.