LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Loud cheers erupted as Jamison Hernandez crossed the finish line using his walker.
The 36-year-old, who was born with his umbilical cord wrapped five times around his neck, was one of a handful of Special Olympics athletes who were celebrated at the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics on Friday evening. The event, which took place at Manatee Technical Institute, 5540 Lakewood Ranch Blvd, benefited the Special Olympics, a widely recognized sports organization for children and adults with disabilities.
Hernandez's older sister Pam Kocoras said Hernandez is intellectually challenged.
"That's the new politically
correct term," she said, adding that Hernandez used to be 5'5" and grew to 5'11" overnight after back surgery. Hernandez has rods in his back which caused his legs to go inward. Hernandez's feet have turned forward through his own will, Kocoras said. Her brother is heavily involved in volleyball, swimming, bowling and basketball.
"He told me 'If I turn my right foot left, can I get a phone?' And I said, 'Yep.' And he did it," Kocoras said proudly. "He has these little goals he gives himself. He's independent and does everything on his own."
Hernandez competed in the run alongside Kocoras and 36-year-old Katie Lansky, who is autistic.
More than 100 runners competed in the 5K race, turning it into a joyous event despite the gloomy skies above.
Stephen Desch was the first to cross the 5K run finish line with a time of 17:40.
"It feels great after getting hired by the sheriff's office a month ago, so it really makes a statement," the 22-year-old said.
Sue Fitzgerald, Manatee County Director of Special Olympics Florida, watched it all proudly from the sidelines.
"I'm really excited about it. This gets people with intellectual abilities a chance to compete with each other on their own ability level, but it also gives them a chance to showcase those abilities," she said, "and the community knows what they can do."
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.