Melanie Comer named Special Olympian Award winner, will be honored Feb. 19
By ADAM PRUIETT
Northwest Florida Daily News 315-4421 | firstname.lastname@example.org
FORT WALTON BEACH — Don’t think just because Melanie Comer has Down Syndrome that you can do everything she can — maybe not even close.
There are groups of former cadets from Hurlburt Field who can verify that. The ones who were taken on sightseeing trips that included water skiing by Melanie’s parents, Stephanie and Richard, who is a retired major general and former 16th Special Operations Wing commander and MH-53 pilot.
Melanie would plunge into the water herself, grab the water skiing rope and pop up with ease after the boat accelerated and sped away. She’d then coolly maneuver back and forth, making the whole process seem simple as can be. It wasn’t. A number of cadets could never rise when it was their turn, instead getting a face full of water. Full of admiration was how they then viewed Melanie. “They would go and sit next to her and say, ‘Wow, you can ski,’ ” Stephanie fondly recalled.
Those cadets weren’t the first — and they certainly will not be the last — to come away surprised and inspired by Melanie, who has been honored by the Fort Walton Beach-based All Sports Association as its 2010 Special Olympian Award winner.
Melanie will be honored Feb. 19 at the All Sports Association’s 41st Annual Awards Dinner in Fort Walton Beach.
“She’s an inspiration to all of us and is very deserving of this recognition,” All Sports President Robert McEachern said. “We can all learn from her can-do attitude.”
Name the sport, and Melanie has probably excelled in it. In her Special Olympics career, the 29-year-old from Niceville has captured four gold, six silver and nine bronze medals. She’s done gymnastics, English equestrian, bowling, basketball, bocce ball and snow skiing.
Last February, while competing in the East Region of the Special Olympics snow skiing, Melanie navigated the advanced slope and placed fourth despite it being her first year of competition and she was the only female. Her feat is even more astonishing considering that when Melanie was born, she required surgery and leg casts for most of her first year or she would never have been able to walk.
Seeing Melanie overcome so many disadvantages has been a constant source of joy for her parents. “When you see Melanie, it’s 10 times the thrill when she accomplishes something,” Stephanie said. Plus, Stephanie has learned so much from her daughter. Once, when they were bowling together, a child close by was being unruly and Stephanie was rolling the ball poorly. Suffice it to say, her agitation was starting to get the best of her. Sensing this, Melanie tugged on her mom and simply said, “It’s OK. It’s a game.”
“Why can’t we all be like that,” Stephanie said. “Enjoying it for the sake of enjoying it.”
Of course, most probably would if they were as good as Melanie, especially when it comes to bowling. She once bowled a 200 as rows of people gathered to watch as she neared the magical number. Unfazed, Melanie knocked down pin after pin and registered the 200. Many in the mass of people approached her and offered their congratulations.
“If that doesn’t move you … it’s all I could do not to cry,” Stephanie said.