First in an occasional series on three local athletes honored for Special Olympics Indiana’s 50th anniversary.

Kevin Callaghan added his name to local sports lore when he won bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece.

Eight years later, his accomplishments are being commemorated on trading cards for the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics Indiana.

“It’s awesome,” Callaghan said. “It’s 50 years of Special Olympics. Special Olympics Indiana is one year younger than the international level. So they wanted to have a big bang for the Special Olympics Indiana for the 50th anniversary.”

Callaghan is not the only Special Olympics Cass County athlete being featured on the commemorative trading cards. Logansport’s Jessica Crook, who won gold, silver and bronze in swimming in 2007 in Shanghai, China, is featured on a card. As is Peru’s Dakota White, who is featured playing football to represent the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Games (EKS Games).

Callaghan recommends anyone to attend a Special Olympics event at some point in their life.

“There’s a lot of good competition out there. You hear all these amazing stories,” he said. “It promotes safe health for the community. It promotes healthy lifestyle for athletes who work in the workforce.”

Callaghan looks back at competing at the World Games in Athens, Greece fondly.

He was one 317 athletes from the United States who competed at the event. A total of 7,500 athletes from 185 nations competed in 22 different sports.

“It was a culture experience,” Callaghan said. “It was just like normal Olympics. You saw all the countries, all the cultures, all the walks of life. It’s amazing. Special Olympics is more than sports, it’s health, fitness and social life too.

“It was neat seeing everybody represent their nations and clubs. It was world peace. Different countries came up to us as Americans and were like, ‘Wow.’ ‘Our country is home to this.’ It was neat.”

Callaghan has overcome many obstacles in life, including being a toe walker and wearing braces on his legs before he had a Botox injection into his legs at age 10. He was put into casts for 4-6 weeks in both legs.

He said the confidence he gained growing up competing in Special Olympics allowed him to try out for the cross country team in middle school. He would continually finish last in his races then but got a lot of support from teammates, coaches, family and friends.

When he got to high school at Logansport he again went out for the cross country and track teams, and again he often finished last or second to last in the races amid a lot of support.

Then the summer before his junior year his running career got a big boost. The coach at the time, Chuck LaDow, told the team that runners could earn a T-shirt announcing that they ran 300 miles in 60 days if they could complete the difficult task. Callaghan did.

By the time his senior season in cross country rolled around, he was the Berries’ No. 1 runner. He ran a personal-best 18:02 on the Culver Academies course.

He went on to graduate from Logansport in 2004. In July of 2011, he competed at the World Games at age 26.

Competing at Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on a sun-torched track, Callaghan gave it everything he had during the stretch run of the 5K event.

His big kick at the end helped him win bronze with a time of 22:10.38. He missed the silver medal by a fraction of a second, as he nearly caught second-place finisher Makism Trantcevich of Russia. Jamaica’s Andre Hendricks won the gold in 21:49.51.

“It was hot, 92 degrees. I remember I shared my water tube with the second-place runner because it was so hot,” Callaghan recalled. “But it was worth it. I got to run on an Olympic track. Smooth. All the athletes ran on that in the 2004 Olympics. It was unbelievable.

“I almost upset the second-place finisher from Russia. Less than an inch. It was at the finish line. It was as close as the closest finish at the Indianapolis 500 when Al Unser Jr. won the race in 1992. It was that close. I felt like that race.”

Callaghan just missed medaling in his other two events at the World Games, placing fourth in both the 3K run (12:57.13) and the 400-meter relay (1:05.65), where he was the anchor.

Now 34, Callaghan continues to compete in Special Olympics basketball and annually competes in a sectional held at the Berry Bowl in March. He would still compete in track but is too busy as he currently works two jobs.

“I love working,” he said. “I work for Pepsi in the morning stocking grocery stores locally. I work for Mary Max Cinemas in Logansport in the evenings on the weekends. It’s a great honor to be American working for these companies as an Olympic medalist and keep America rolling.”

Special Olympics Cass County coordinator Diann Sedam said she’s happy that Callaghan, Crook and White are getting well earned recognition on their trading cards.

“I am proud of the accomplishments these athletes have achieved. It shows the commitment and support that Cass County gives our athletes to help them rise to this level of excellence,” she said.

Contact sports editor Beau Wicker at 574-732-5113.

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