Jeff Scott — who has competed in three previous Special Olympics World Games prior to the 2015 competition in Los Angeles — was a day late getting to USA’s training camp at the University of California, Riverside. But the seasoned athlete from Brea had a good excuse.
He had to work.
He had to put in one last night shift as a custodian for Orange County before he could join his teammates. Jeff has had a stellar work record with the county for 10 years and wanted to keep it that way as much as possible. “He rarely gets sick and has to take off from work,” his mother, Roseann, told The Tidings. “He’s pretty reliable. So he has a lot of accrued time. He takes actual vacation time to do the Special Olympics.”
At 46, the nose-to-the-grindstone competitor considers himself one of the “seniors” of the 2015 games. And he clicks off his other world competitions like he’s reading from a Denny’s menu: North Carolina in 1990, basketball; Minneapolis-St. Paul in 1991, pentathlon track and field; Athens, Greece, in 2011, tennis singles and doubles.
For the World Games here, it’s tennis singles and doubles again. “I used to love track and field, but now my favorite is tennis,” he said. “That’s my big thing now.”
Still, Jeff points out that the sport doesn’t really matter.
“I love the world Special Olympics,” he said. “Meeting new athletes from around the world, the competition. I like to compete, and I like to make new friends. Those are the big things. When some of the other athletes I know see me competing, they say, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe he’s going again.’”
Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro
Roseann believes this year’s games in Los Angeles will be a challenge for her son. “He probably will be playing players about 20 years younger that he is,” she pointed out with a chuckle. “So it’ll be interesting to see how he does. But he doesn’t look a day over 29.”
Early on, Jeff picked up vibes from others that he was different and couldn’t really accomplish much. In first grade, he was diagnosed as “educable mentally retarded.” That only made him more determined to succeed.
So when the chance to climb Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro arose, he jumped at it. Along with four other Special Olympians and five coaches, he climbed to the very top of the 19,341-foot-tall mountain made famous by author Ernest Hemingway in his short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” A snowstorm, in fact, made the sojourn from base camp even more difficult for the Special Olympic athletes. CBS filmed the whole climb, winning an Emmy for the moving TV documentary titled “Let Me Be Brave.”
Jeff, who considers himself simply slow, graduated from Valencia High School. At the Placentia school he lettered in cross country and track. And practically since then, he’s participated in a variety of Special Olympics sports, including field hockey, basketball, volleyball, softball, Alpine skiing and the pentathlon, where he took silver.
“Jeff is one of the more higher-functioning athletes,” Rosann reported. “He drives and owns a car. And a lot of the [Special Olympics’] coaches rely on Jeff to help out and be an inspiration to the other athletes.”
Counting the days
For the 2015 world games, Jeff has been honing his tennis skills for almost a year while holding down his full-time night job. He and his coach of 25 years, Keith Brigman, do volleys and play games, practicing forehand and backhand, serving and overall match tactics.
Jeff says he’s definitely up for L.A., with some 6,500 competitors and 2,000 coaches from 165 nations.
“I’m really excited,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been counting the days. I work one more night, and then tomorrow morning I’m going to get to meet the rest of the team in Riverside. And I can’t wait to meet them. Yeah, I’m excited.
“And the good thing is, it’s close to home. So I’ll have home court advantage. When I went to Athens, Greece, four years ago, it was like, ‘What day is it, Monday, Tuesday? Because I was going through so many time zones. I’ve never played tennis at UCLA before, but it’s been my goal.”
When asked how being in the Special Olympics has affected him, Jeff doesn’t hesitate. “Positive,” he said. “It’s been good for me. It really has.”
Note: The Tidings went to press a few days after the nine-day Special Olympics World Games began across the Southland.