Special Olympic athletes keep busy during their down time

OKEECHOBEE — As is the case with all the Special Olympic athletes, Hunter Golden and Theresa Matthews miss their friends and the chance to compete that they had with Special Olympics.


Theresa has been a Special Olympic athlete since she was a young girl in Fort Pierce. Theresa grew up in Fort Pierce and moved to Okeechobee as an adult. She lives with her friend Lucy Holzer, who she affectionately calls Mom, although Holzer laughingly said she is nowhere near old enough to be Theresa’s mom. She doesn’t mind the nickname though, and the two have a close relationship.

Teresa Matthews shows off her medal won at a bowling tournament.


Theresa began her Olympic career with track and field and then expanded to bowling. When she was younger, she was a runner, but an injury obtained in a car accident forced her to stop running, and now she competes in other events such as bowling, the soft ball throw and bike races. Theresa says she has every medal she has ever won, and there are quite a few after all these years. She is planning to learn to golf and will compete in that event when Special Olympics opens back up. She misses running, but is not wasting time worrying about it.

Theresa Matthews (center) loves bowling with her friends Lucy (left and Samantha (right).


Social Butterflies is a group made up of men and women, most of them Special Olympic athletes, all of them special in one way or another. Theresa participates in some of the group’s activities and get togethers such as bingo, the movies, or parties and enjoys spending time with friends she has made there.


Since the virus and the lock down, Theresa said she has mostly just been staying home. She gets her exercise by walking her dog nowadays. He is a Highland Terrier and was a rescue dog. She laughed when asked if she carries Toby around in her purse, and said, “No, but I do take him around on my bicycle.” She has a three-wheel bike and carries Toby in the basket on back. She puts a blanket back there, and he never tries to jump out. Theresa is a pro on the bike. She came in first place in that category when the group had a track and field event last October.


When it comes to bowling, she has her heart set on bowling a 300 one day. So far, she has made it up to 270. She used to bowl in a league and was very disappointed when the bowling alley closed down. Now they have to travel out of town to bowl, and she said it’s not always worth the long trip.
Since Special Olympics shut down temporarily, Theresa said she misses spending time with her friends Lucy, Tom, Cowboy (Joey) and everyone else. She has been trying to stay away from people as much as possible but said, “It’s kind of hard.” She is worried she will be out of practice with her bowling but knows no one else is getting in any practice right now either, so that helps.


Hunter lives with his dad, Anthony, and he turned 19 in May. Hunter was born in Boca Raton and lived in Coral Springs. He moved to Okeechobee in July of 2008 and attended South Elementary and Yearling Middle Schools here but was homeschooled when he got older. After he graduated from high school, he got involved with the Social Butterflies and with Special Olympics.

Hunter Golden enjoys competing in Special Olympics. His favorite medals are the red ones, because red is his favorite color.


Although he sometimes enjoys playing bingo with the group, it is not very exciting to him, and he has often told his dad they should just take the $2 to the store and spend it instead. He enjoys going to the theater with his friends as long as the film is one he thinks he would enjoy. Hunter said film is the proper word for it, not movie. He goes to see films. Cars 3 was one of his favorites, but he also enjoyed the recent film about Mr. Rogers, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”


Hunter used to enjoy going to church, but the constant sitting, standing, kneeling was too much for him. After he twisted his knee one day, he decided he wasn’t going back.

Video games are a favorite pastime for Hunter, and he especially enjoys Mario.


Bowling is Hunter’s favorite event in Special Olympics, and he said he is pretty good at it. When asked if he has won any medals, he replied, “I indeed have.” He is very proud of the red medal he won, because red is his favorite color. He also enjoys track and field events, and is good at running and throwing the softball.

Hunter Golden loves dressing up in costume and going to the Fall Festival.


Fall is a favorite time of year for Hunter and he loves going to the Harvest Festivals. He likes dressing up in costumes and enjoys the train ride and the hay wagon ride. Last year, he dressed up as Mario, but this year he plans to go as Charlie Brown if the event is still held at the Ag Center. He has his whole costume planned, right down to the shoes he will wear.


Since the coronavirus came to town, Hunter stays home a lot more, and said he is usually in his room on his tablet, Ipad or Wii. The family has three cats and a dog, and Hunter helps take care of them. He has fun with these things but will still be glad when Special Olympics starts back up again and he can spend time with his friends.

Hunter has an older sister and a 5-year-old niece. They live in North Florida, so he does not get to see them as often as he would like. His mom, Deborah lives in West Virginia, but is in Okeechobee visiting him now. Grandma, Barbara, lives with Hunter and his dad as well.


Hunter met Bernard Marker at bingo one day, and Marker invited him to participate in Special Olympics. Marker is part of the management team for Special Olympics Okeechobee and anyone interested in finding out more about Special Olympics can call him at 863-801-3393, or you can find them on Facebook at Special Olympics Okeechobee. You can also go to the Special Olympics website, Specialolympicsflorida.org/okeechobee.

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