Photo by luigi ciuffetelli
We recently caught up with Jon as he was preparing for this month’s Special Olympics Delaware Summer Games (June 14-15 at the University of Delaware). His parents, Liz and Hank, joined us at their kitchen table. Jon, 37, who has Down syndrome, chatted about powerlifting, his induction last year into the Special Olympics Delaware Hall of Fame (Jon is holding the plaque in the photo), the “R” word, Polar Bears and rubbing elbows with celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You’ve been featured in Sports Illustrated for Kids, the CBS Evening News’ “On the Road” documentary and in public service announcements, just to mention a few. You’ve certainly accomplished a lot in your life. Are you famous?
Yes (he smiles). People know me.
You have been very successful competing in powerlifting at the Special Olympics, winning many gold and bronze medals at the local and World Games. How does that feel?
Last year, you were inducted into the Special Olympics Hall of Fame. How do you feel about that?
It’s the most important thing.
How much do you bench press?
You also compete in the men’s division at many open meets, such as the Arnold Classic and New York State Bench and Deadlift (two of the top powerlifting events in the United States). You were named Lifter of the Day at the Arnold Classic. Tell us about meeting Arnold.
I met him. I was happy to see him. We shook hands. He told me good luck. (The video received 16.5 million views, says Hank.)
I hear that people call you “Superman,” so you got a tattoo of the “S” insignia on your forearm. Did that hurt?
I slept through it.
You travel from school to school to promote the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign. (The program was formed to eliminate the derogatory use of the word “retarded.”) Says his mother, “Jon does not like hearing the ‘R word.’”
The only R word is respect.
For the past 15 years, you have participated in the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge to help raise money for Special Olympics Delaware. That ocean gets pretty cold in February. Do you enjoy doing that?
I do pushups when I come back (out of the water). My mom sits on my back.
You seem to be somewhat of a daredevil. You have twice rappelled down the side of a 220-foot building as part of the Over the Edge program. Got any advice for others?
Look up. Don’t look down.