Local man thrives as Special Olympic athlete, mentor to others

Publix Store Manager Jerry Bryans volunteers with Special Olympics, where Greg Myers, a Publix employee, has participated for the past eight years.

Publix Store Manager Jerry Bryans volunteers with Special Olympics, where Greg Myers, a Publix employee, has participated for the past eight years.

As the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, kick off this month, local athletes are returning from Special Olympics state competitions in Orlando, Florida.

One Westside young man, Greg Myers, has been a Special Olympics athlete for the past eight years and plays point guard on the Duval County Special Olympics basketball team.

Myers, 25, began playing basketball while attending Lakeshore Middle School, but it wasn’t until he enrolled at Palm Avenue Exceptional Student Center that he was introduced to the Special Olympics, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Palm Avenue is one of seven Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools in Duval County. The schools use sports and education programs “to activate young people to develop school communities where all youth are agents of change – fostering respect, dignity and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities,” as stated on the Special Olympics website.

Myers’ Palm Avenue job coach, Bob Graver, encouraged the young man to participate, and he’s been playing basketball, football, and soccer ever since. He also bowled in the Duval County 2017 Special Olympics.

After Myers finished school, he was hired at the Roosevelt Mall Publix store to work as a bagger and cart handler. When Jerry Bryans was brought in as store manager he began attending Myers’ basketball games, met Coach Graver and was soon encouraged to become involved with Special Olympics.

“Bob Graver asked me to help them out and be a coach, and next thing you know I’m getting more and more involved. I get so much pleasure out of doing this,” said Bryans, who often plays basketball and football with the young athletes to help them improve their skills and to ensure all have a fair chance to participate.

“Greg helps others, too, during practices and games. Greg is in a higher tier (two out of five) and is one of the better athletes. Because he’s been doing it for so long, he’s able to help others just getting into it,” Bryans said. “I play with the lower level athletes as a ‘unified’ player to help them, guide them, make sure everyone gets to shoot or score a goal.”

Two years ago, Bryans was asked to be on the management team for the Duval County Special Olympics Board of Directors and got to know many of the athletes.

“For a lot of them, that’s all they live for,” he said. “Greg is a good all-around person; he’s a good athlete, he’s a great worker, he has an outside life, a social life. A lot of them don’t, they go home and look forward to the practices, to going to the games.”

What Myers likes best about being involved in the Special Olympics is “making friends, doing what I love to do. I’m proud to do whatever I can. I’m working toward being certified as a coach,” he said.

“I’ve seen a big change in Greg over the last five years, and he’s a great mentor for the other athletes,” added Bryans.

Myers is modest about his achievements. “I’ve done pretty good in my events, but we need more practice,” he said. “It’s not really easy to stay in shape. I’m glad I have this job because when I’m not practicing, I can eat healthy to stay in shape.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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