Local man takes an unconventional walk down victory lane

A&E

Randy Rogers bows his head toward the uneven pavement, looking up every once in a while with a smile on his clean, yet unshaven face.

He waits patiently as the public address announcer reads off a couple of small white pieces of paper that blow out of control in the wind.

As Randy steps forward with the freshly lit flame that whips back and forth in the wind, he waves his hands in gratitude as fans applaud him.

His walk is slow, but methodical. Confident in every stride.

He waves left. Right. Then left again. He stops walking just before the American flag that whips around in the stiff November wind.

Sandra Rogers, Randy’s mother, stands nearby with a smile on her face as her son walks by in front of her.

“It’s one of the biggest honors an athlete can have,” she says.

Randy received the honor of carrying the Olympic torch to open the weekend’s golf Olympic games.

But, this is no ordinary Olympic torch.

And, this is no ordinary Olympic games either.

This is the North Carolina Special Olympics.

Forty two-year-old Randy Rogers, according to his doctors, can only see buildings and elephants, as he is legally blind in his right eye.

But, this isn’t the only obstacle that Randy has to overcome.

His brown eyes twinkle through his thick glasses that sit slightly crooked on his face as the announcer informs the crowd that Randy will be representing the United States in the 2020 Special Olympics World Games this coming summer in Los Angeles – a long way from his home in Colfax, North Carolina.

It’s a major recognition for Randy, but his parents believe the real miracle is that Randy is even breathing today.

Forty-two years ago Randy was born on the Ft. Leonard Wood Army base in Missouri while his father, Roy Rogers, served in the Army. After being taken home despite three days of throwing up in the hospital, Randy laid in his crib across the room from where Roy and Sandra slept.

As Sandra got up to check on Randy who was coughing out of control, she noticed something in his crib.

Bright red blood.

The Rogers quickly rushed Randy back to the hospital and after hours of x-rays, the hospital revealed that Randy had a complete blockage in his digestive track just below his stomach. A med-evac helicopter was set to fly Randy and only one parent to an emergency surgery that was scheduled at Fitz Simmons Hospital in Colorado.

But, before Randy even boarded the chopper, his condition took a turn for the worse. He hadn’t had any nourishment since the day he was born.

“He was getting worse with every passing hour,” said Sandra.

Forty-two years ago, a surgery of this magnitude was considered incredibly risky, especially on a newborn. The Rogers family received the news that every parent dreads when put in this situation.

“The doctor was very candid with us. He said he really didn’t think Randy would survive the surgery but that he would give it his best,” she said.

After a surgery that lasted eight and a half hours, four more hours than expected, Randy pulled through and was admitted into the Intensive Care Unit as he attempted to begin the long road to recovery.

Two days after the surgery as Sandra and Roy stared through the glass of the ICU looking at their son, who was hooked up to all kinds of wires and monitors, an unexpected silence rocked their world once more.

“You never know what you have until you almost lose it,” Roy said over tears that slowly started to drip down his bewildered face.

The EKG machine that beeped to the rhythm of Randy’s heart, just suddenly stopped beeping.

“The doctor walked out of the door and Roy just sagged against the door and turned grayish looking,” Sandra said. “Roy was sure that Randy had just died.”

The doctor as it turns out did not come out to tell the Rogers that their son had passed away. Rather, he came to explain that the reason the EKG machine went off was because Randy was the only patient in the ICU at the time and the nurses didn’t want to listen to the beeping noise that echoed through the thin glass doors and down the hallway.

“After thinking that you had just lost your son, and then finding out all was well, everything else pretty much seemed trivial from there,” Roy said while clearing his throat.

After spending 27 days in the hospital post surgery, Sandra and Roy finally got the pleasure of taking Randy home for good.

But, as soon as they thought their life would go back to normal, life turned their world upside-down yet again. This time for good.

“After all Randy had been through, I just didn’t want to believe it,” explained Sandra.

Three months after Randy was released from the hospital, Randy was diagnosed with Down syndrome, a disorder that presents physical and mental challenges.

After extensive testing by doctors, Sandra and Roy were told that Randy would not be able to walk or talk until he was five, he wouldn’t be potty trained until he was somewhere around the age of 12, and would never be able to read a book or ride a bicycle.

“It made me grow up real quick,” Roy said while swinging in his rocking chair under the sun-drenched skylight. “I was only 25-years-old at the time.”

In the car on the way home from the doctors appointment that revealed Randy’s disability, Roy said the single best thing that he has ever told his wife.

“Honey, he is still our son, no matter what he can or can’t do,” Roy told her in the car ride home. “It’s no longer about us, it’s about how we can make the best life for our son.”

This philosophy led Randy today to redefine the limitations of Down syndrome and prove the doctors entirely wrong.

“I loved my son unconditionally,” Sandra said. “But let me tell you, that’s when the light bulb went off over my head. I realized I was mourning over something that hadn’t even come to pass, and furthermore, might not ever.”

Randy sits on the medal-back chair underneath an umbrella that’s twice the size of the outdoor patio table.

The unexpected warmth of the early November sun beats down on Randy.

“I love to read books,” Randy says as he lays both of his hands on his two Hardy Boy’s books that sit in front of him on the table. “I’ve read up to number 51 in the series.”

His parents always believed in him. It was just a matter of everyone else thinking the same thing.

For a man that was told that he would never be able to read a book or ride a bicycle, Randy has redefined the limitations of Down syndrome.

Along the way, Sandra and Roy introduced Randy to something that could have challenged his physical limitations a little too much.

The world of sport and the Special Olympics.

“Yes, we were a little concerned,” Sandra explained. “But I always believed he could do something until he proved that he couldn’t.”

At the age of eight, Randy took part in the track and field until the age of 12 when the family moved to their home today in North Carolina. From there, Randy took part in track and field, equestrian, swimming, and gymnastics.

Then in 1991, Randy was asked to represent the United States in the Special Olympic World Games in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Randy was able to come back home with three gold, two silver, and two bronze medals that currently sit in a wooden frame hung inside the Roger’s house. The six medals, polished and pristine against the black-matted background, hang in a triangular fashion that reminds Randy of his accomplishments on a national stage.

“Aren’t they cool?” Randy asks as he stares at his medals that hang on the pink wall of the house.

Randy no longer competes in track and field or gymnastics, but for the last 18 years of his life, he has dedicated himself to the sport of golf.

Randy is not alone when it comes to golf. His father, Roy, is in charge of the Greensboro team and also serves as Randy’s eyes and ears on the golf course. His caddy.

Because Randy is legally blind in one of his eyes, Roy puts his burley hands on Randy’s shoulder as they stare down the plush, green course to help line up his shots, puts, and offers encouraging words when Randy gets down on himself.

“You gotta’ keep your head in the game Randy… it’s a head game.” Roy phrases one of his more popular sayings to Randy who walks around with his head in his hands when frustrated.

“I think he likes me being his caddy,” Roy says. “He just has to decide whether he wants to just play, or listen to me and play well.”

Randy is able to drive a golf ball off a tee anywhere from 150 to 200 yards, but when he lifts his head up to see where his shot is going to land, that is when he typically sends the ball skidding across the plush fairway.

But, on the par three fourth hole at Oak Hollow Golf Course in High Point, where the golf competition for the North Carolina Special Olympics was held, Randy sent a drive off the white tee box, over the glistening water, landing the ball five feet next to the flagstick, 139 yards from the hole.

Randy jumped in the air with joy and pumped his fist as Roy came over to congratulate his son with a pat on the shoulder blade.

Because of Randy’s above average golf game and his high level of functioning, he will be making his second appearance at the Special Olympics World Games. As he waves his hands left, then right, then left again in front of a crowd of nearly 100 people at Oak Hollow, Randy’s remarkable survival story comes full circle.

“Randy doesn’t play golf for the final score,” Roy explains. “Randy plays for the compliments and the satisfaction of being with others just like him.”

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. – The Special Olympics Motto

Campus Chronicle
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