A GAME FOR ALL SEASONS
Crawley family embraces Special Olympics year-round
The medals arranged by gold, silver and bronze in gallon Ziploc bags at home can be explained in anywhere between 13.78 and 14.74 seconds.
Monday night, it was closer to the 14.74 end of the scale, but still: Steven Crawley’s arms pumped like pistons and his galaxy-themed shorts fluttered around his quads as he raced from start to finish.
“Go, Steven, go! Go go go!” cheered his dad, Keith, standing 100 yards down the Grand Junction High School track from where Steven began, holding a smartphone with the timer running.
With his sternum-length beard plastered against his T-shirt by the onrush he was creating, Steven zoomed across the finish line and Keith stopped the clock.
“Not bad, 14.74!” Keith told his son, who nodded as he bent with his hands on his knees, huffing from the exertion.
Soon, Steven straightened, smiling and declaring, “I can go faster.”
And that, right there, that attitude of willingness to try harder and joy in the effort is why Special Olympics is not just Steven’s and not just one sport or one season, but something embraced year-round by the entire Crawley family: dad Keith, mom Susan, Steven, who is 27, and older brother Robert, 30, a Special Olympics Unified Partner.
There’s track and field in spring, bocce in summer, bowling in autumn and basketball in winter, all with the independent Grand Junction Gators. The team has a close working relationship with Special Olympics and other local organizations that serve special-needs athletes, but is organized and run by the Crawleys and mostly supported by their fund-raising efforts. On average, the team has between six and nine members, depending on the sport.
“It’s just something that really means a lot to the athletes,” Keith explained. “When you see their faces and you see that they know they’ve done a good job and they’ve tried their hardest, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
The family first got involved with Special Olympics athletics when Steven was a student at Orchard Mesa Middle School and wanted to play basketball. At that time, the teams organized through what is now Strive had full rosters, Keith recalled, but Strive staff pointed them to some of the independent teams.
Then, almost without them realizing it was happening, Keith and Susan were organizing the Gators — arranging and running practices, maintaining team rosters, making sure every athlete’s paperwork and medical clearances were in order and submitted on time, and fundraising.
“We did car washes a few times at K-Mart, but some of the kids didn’t like that very much because it could be kind of messy and loud,” Keith said.
He recalled one customer in particular, though, a man who brought his RV to be washed and asked what their biggest donation had been so far.
“So, I told him $50 and he said, well, here’s $80,” Keith recalled.
“He said we do a much better job than Shiners,” Steven added, and Susan laughingly admonished him to speak nicely about other businesses.
The team’s main fundraiser now is selling candy bars, bought in bulk and sold for $1 each.
“I did lots of fundraising in school and I was always the top seller,” Susan said, “so this was something I knew we could do as a team.”
“She really knows how to talk to customers,” Keith added.
During the holiday season, the Crawleys and team members sell outside Sportsman’s Warehouse, Goodwill and at Mesa Mall. Steven has his pitch memorized: “Hello, how are you? Would you like to buy a candy bar for $1? We’re raising money for Special Olympics basketball.”
“He’s always the top candy bar salesman,” Susan said with a smile.
The money goes toward equipment and jerseys, as well as travel expenses when they compete in out-of-town games or meets.
It’s through that competition that Steven has earned 28 medals, which he organizes by gold, silver and bronze in bags on which he writes the count: 12 gold, 10 silver, six bronze.
“I want to have even more gold than silver,” he said, adding that he hopes his participation in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, as well as the 400-meter relay, at the state Special Olympics will aid his goal. His parents support him in his endeavors and he has absolute confidence in his teammates.
Like Todd Miracle, for example. The two have been competing together since they were on the Timberwolves team, and at Monday’s practice they good-naturedly tried to best each other’s times in the sprints.
“Let’s see if I beat him,” Todd said, before crouching panther-like on the track and waiting for his coach to say go. His blue and orange Kangaroo sneakers blurred as he charged down the track, eyes fixed straight in laser focus and cheeks reddening with the effort.
“Go, Todd!” Keith called. “Great form!”
He finished in 14.16 seconds, and Steven was proud of his friend, congratulating him and telling him good job.
That’s another reason Keith said he’s happy to spend most Monday evenings — and Wednesdays during bowling season — coaching one sport or another.
Although he played basketball in high school, he had no previous coaching experience before joining the Gators, but said the sportsmanship and heart he saw from the athletes inspired him to learn and become better at coaching.
“As a team, we’re known for our sportsmanship and I’m proud of that,” Keith said.
“We do a cheer for the other team after a game,” Steven added.
So, in the events this weekend at state, the athletes will work their hardest, remembering pointers Coach gave them at practice, and maybe, hopefully, spend some time on the winners’ podium.
But even if they don’t, even if the medals prove elusive, “it’s still fun,” Steven said. “I want to have fun with my friends and make some new friends.”