Lee County Special Olympian wins gold medal at world games
By Anna-Claire Terry
Lee County’s very own Gideon Weigel brought home a gold medal in volleyball from the Special Olympic World Games in Las Angeles last week.
“It feels like I’m on top of a mountain,” the 21-year-old said proudly with his medal around his neck.
Weigel was the only member from the Lee County team chosen to represent the United States at the games. He practiced every Sunday for a year and attended several camps. He said the magnitude of what he accomplished did not hit him until he and the team were about to be awarded their medals.
“It was a lot of hard work and sweat, but that’s what I’m here to do anyway,” he said.
According to his mother, Elissa Weigel, Gideon has been playing sports since he could walk and has been a fiercely competitive athlete for as long as she can remember.
“He plays just about everything there is. It’s just in his blood,” she said. Gideon’s other sports include basketball, softball, baseball, football and track.
Gideon credits his success in sports to his support system comprised of good friends, coaches and family.
“My friends always want to see me do well. They never want to see me fail,” he said. “If people are negative, I won’t be around them.” Gideon is all about surrounding himself with positive people and said being negative is not worth the trouble it brings.
Dana Stewart, special programs coordinator and director of Dean Road Recreation Center, referred to herself as one of Gideon’s biggest fans and said she knew exactly who to recommend when she got a phone call about prospects for the World Games.
“He’s a team player, and I knew that he could travel well and also help others,” Stewart said.
Gideon said he had the opportunity to do many things outside of the Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif. The U.S.A. team toured the campus of UCLA, went to the beach and saw the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. At the opening games, he even caught a glimpse of Michael Phelps and Michelle Obama and several celebrities. “I really enjoyed meeting new people… and the ladies,” Gideon said jokingly.
What is the next step for Lee County’s Special Olympic gold medalist after returning home from the games?
“I want to go higher and take it to the next level,” Gideon said. He has even tossed around the ideas of the Olympics and NBA. “I know the Olympics would be hard, and it wouldn’t be easy, but I can take that. I can take that level of sports,” he added.
Stewart said an individual accomplishment like this means that the Lee County program is doing its job. She is also grateful for Gideon’s win because of the awareness of special needs athletes it brought to the area.
As Gideon talked about how amazing it feels to have started at the bottom and end up on the top, his mother beamed with pride. “I am just so proud of him because he has come such a long way. He was diagnosed with his intellectual disability as a baby, and we never could have dreamed God would bring him this far,” she said.
Gideon’s advice to others in pursuit of a large goal is to keep your head up and keep pushing forward. “Stay positive. That’s the main thing,” he stressed again. “If you are negative, you won’t have a very good day – or a very good life.”