Former director of Manatee Special Olympics inspired many

Cindy Gettinger, 1960-2012

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 5, 2012 

MANATEE -- Lifelong Bradenton resident Cindy Gettinger, who won four gold medals in swimming at the eighth Paralympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 and was the fiery leader of Manatee County Special Olympics for 14 years, has died.

Pneumonia on Tuesday claimed the 52-year-old who was an "incomplete" quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down but able still to use her arms and, to a lesser degree, her hands, following a spinal cord injury when she was 21, said her

mother, Nancy Gettinger.

Nancy Gettinger and Cindy lived together in their West Bradenton home, which was adapted to her wheelchair, but Cindy had increasingly longer hospital stays due to breathing challenges, her mother said.

"I miss her terribly," Nancy Gettinger said Thursday while petting Shep, Cindy's black Lab service dog. "It's like a limb is gone. I find myself going back to her room to tell her something. I'm saying, 'Cindy, where are you? I need you.'"

Gettinger was Manatee County coordinator for Special Olympics from 1991 to 2005. She was on the board of Easter Seals and also went on mission trips to the Ukraine and Russia, sharing her faith with people in the countries where she participated athletically.

Gettinger was depressed after her injury, which occurred while she was an emergency medical technician working in St. Petersburg after a patient slammed her against a wall, her mother said.

But after seeing wheelchair basketball on TV, Gettinger told her mother, "I can do that," and went on to years of fierce competition.

"She was my hero," Gettinger's brother, Gregg, 48, said. "Whenever I would feel sorry for myself, I would look at her. She kept steaming through. Nothing could stop her."

When Gregg got divorced, Cindy brought her brother a pet skunk to get him smiling again.

"She challenged a group of us firefighters from Vicksburg, Miss., to a wheelchair basketball game against a group of her teammates," said Gettinger's oldest brother, Mike, 55. "They whooped our butts."

Gettinger attendedAnna Maria Elementary, Bayshore High and then MCC. She attended New College on a full scholarship where she earned a degree in cognitive neuropsychology in 1989.

New College established the "Cindy Gettinger Scholarship for Exemplary Achievement in Athletics and/or Overcoming Physical Disabilities."

In 1990, Gettinger was named Outstanding Young Person of the World in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by the Junior Chamber International. The same year, the Jaycees named her as one of the Outstanding Young Americans.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at West Bradenton Baptist Church, 1305 43rd St. W., Bradenton.

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