Sometimes you can win without even being able to see the finish line. Jerry Gatton is a runner. He is determined and eager.
He is also blind. He was born that way.
“I cannot see nothing at all,” said Jerry. “Everything is dark.”
A voice you hear with Jerry is the steady cadence of his coach Dale Becker. He guides Jerry at Saturday morning practices in St. Mary's County and at Special Olympics competitions.
“Oh, I love Special Olympics,” Jerry told us. “I love it with all my heart.”
“They give us three lanes,” said Dale. “One lane for Jerry. One lane for me. And he has an extra lane so that if he needs to wander of a little bit, he has that space to do it.”
On this steamy spring day, the sun beats down on the track. The sweat drips, but Jerry never quits.
“Don't ever say you can't do it people because you can do it,” said Jerry. “You try to do it. Don't say I can't do it. Say I can do it.”
Jerry can and does.
Coach Dale still remembers the day he met Jerry.
“Oh, I loved him right off the bat,” said Dale. “He's just a great guy.”
Dale's stepdaughter is a Special Olympian.
Dale recalled, “She asked me to go and I didn't want to go. I was kind of hesitant. I'm not going to lie. Once I got locked in, I'm here for the haul.”
Here for the Special Olympics and here for Jerry.
This relationship requires a mutual trust.
“He calls me pop and I call him son,” said Jerry.
“I could have a bad day and then come right to the track and then all my worries are gone,” said Dale.
Jerry doesn't just run. He also throws shot put and does the standing long jump.
In each event, he takes that Special Olympics slogan to heart.
"Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Jerry cannot see the competition, but he feels everything.
“I love to hear the birds sing and feel the sunshine on me,” he said. “I just love nature. I love feeling the wind on me.”
Jerry said if he could see for just one day, he knows that he would want to watch that day begin and end.
“I would like to see the sun come up and go down,” said Jerry.
But he is not one to waste time wishing for what will never be.
He told us, “If something don't go right, I get down sometimes and then I'm like, 'Wait a minute. What's the use of me getting down?’ Then I’ll start singing. That's what I do to make my day better.”
What does he sing? He told us gospel songs and country songs.
We asked him to sing for us.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind but now I see.”
Dale said, “Having people like Jerry that can't see, people that can barely walk, people that have disabilities that they're almost crippled -- they run. They don't hesitate to do it.”
What has Dale learned from Jerry?
“Never give up,” he told us.
“What goes through my mind is: Okay, if I don't get it right this time, I could get it right next time,” said Jerry.
Always keep going, he said. In the end, it's not your eyes or your legs that carry you across the finish line. For Jerry, it's really all heart.
Jerry will be participating in the state games of the Special Olympics in early June. If you want to see him in action, those games are in Towson.
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