Sometimes every picture — as Rod Stewart once sang — does tell a story.
Sometimes, not quite.
Kris Arquilla sent me two photos of her son, Jimmy, standing atop the winner’s podium following his victory in the 400-meter run at the state Special Olympics meet a few years ago.
One image showed him with a Wayne High School jersey over his red T-shirt and his medal hung around his neck. His right hand, clenched in a fist of triumph, was held high above his head.
The next photo — taken a few seconds later — showed his head bowed, his face buried in his hands as he wept.
“I was overcome,” Jimmy explained the other day. “It just got me. It was the first time I ever got first.”
But more than just conquering 400 meters, this had been about beating odds far longer.
Jimmy had a troublesome birth and Kris said doctors initially feared he would not live.
He did survive, but there were some developmental problems. He didn’t walk until he was two and finally, when he was six, an MRI revealed he had cerebral palsy.
And then there was his foot. It was crooked and required surgery. Jim, Jimmy’s dad, said he and his wife weren’t sure how he’d walk after that, much less run.
But as he’s proved time and again, Jimmy pushes through his obstacles. Thanks to a grade school teacher, he got involved in Special Olympics bowling and a few years later he qualified for the 100-meter dash at the state meet.
“As I was watching him that first time, tears were running down my face,” Jim said. “The woman standing next to me said, ‘Oh, is that your son out front?’
“And I said, ‘No, that’s my son in the back. I’m just tickled he can run.’”
A few years later at state, Jimmy was in the lead in the 400 coming into the final turns. That’s when he noticed his shoe was untied. He stopped, bent down and methodically retied the lace as the field passed him.
Undaunted, he began to run again, caught most of the others and passed the third-place runner before the finish to make the medal stand.
“After that we got shoes with Velcro,” Kris smiled.
And the following year – with new kicks and the same old grit – he won the 400.
“We were going nuts, Kris said. “And as he stood up there, that’s when it hit him.
“That was his hero moment.”
Actually, Jimmy, who’s now 25, has had quite a few hero moments.
He’s one of the stalwarts of the Huber Heights Special Olympics teams coached by the group’s co-founder, Kathy Kleiser, a former Huber Heights special education teacher, who’s now a transition coordinator with the Greene County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
Jimmy will compete in several events at the Special Olympics regional meet at Centerville High School on April 27 and in June he’ll represent Montgomery County when he carries the torch near Austin Landing as part of the state-wide Law Enforcement Special Olympics Torch Run that ends up in Columbus at the State Summer Games.
His dad is one of the assistant coaches on the track team. His mom and another parent run the group’s “Our Brave Kids” website.
And Jimmy, who has begun taking younger track athletes under his wing – especially those with the “more significant disabilities,” Kleiser said – also made a name for himself as a state-recognized power lifter, dead-lifting 295 pounds while weighing 150. He also bowls, plays soccer and basketball.
His mom recounted the time he got the basketball at mid-court just before the first half buzzer and, as everyone screamed “Shoot!”, he launched a mighty heave that was perfect.
“That’s his only basket in 10 years,” his dad said. “Most other kids would have stopped, but not him. That shows you a lot about his character.”
Kleiser agreed: “He’s just an incredible young man.”
He works a full-time job at Bellomy’s Truck Repair and Service on W. River Rd. He house sits and walks dogs for Kleiser and her husband.
He’s about to become a SICSA volunteer again.
“Once when we were ready to leave there, everybody was gathered in the front lobby, but him,” Jim said. “I finally found him. He had seen a rescue dog that was shaking and he had crawled in the cage. He was holding the dog, petting it and telling it, ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’”
He interned at Miami Valley South Hospital last year, volunteers with his buddy, Izaiah Washington, at a local food pantry, spends Tuesday evenings drawing and painting at We Care Arts in Kettering and is a loyal Dayton Flyers basketball fan.
He also loves muscle cars, as does Kris who has a blue 1970 Chevelle SS. And her dad has amended his will so that his Corvette goes to Jimmy, who does not drive, but can be driven around in it.
“When I’m at work Jim and Jimmy will take my Chevelle out,” Kris smiled. “When I come home, Jimmy will say, ‘And Mom, we did some burnouts!’
“He’s also my little informer.”
Yet, for all the unvarnished honesty, the sincerity, the big-heartedness – and with all those stirring sporting performances – Jimmy’s biggest accomplishment has been captured in some of the other photos Kris sent, the ones of him side by side with his beaming dad.
“If my son hadn’t needed me, there’s no telling where I’d be now,” Jim said quietly, his eyes suddenly glistening. “To me, my boy saved my life.”
‘God has a plan for you’
Kris was 18 and Jim was 20 when they first met.
But soon after the young couple began their life together – their daughter Amber is now 39 – Jim admits he lost his way.
“I was hanging out on the East Side, in bars with the wrong people, doing the wrong things” he said. “There were so many times Kris should have kicked me to the curb, but she kept saying, ‘All this drinking and carrying on, that’s not your life. That’s not you. One day you’ll see. God has a plan for you.’”
The plan was set in motion when Jimmy was born.
“God knows what it takes to soften hearts – to get people out of bars – and that’s what he did with Jim,” Kris said. “Our son has been such a blessing. He changed both of our lives.”
Jim said it took a little longer for him:
“At first, you start blaming. After what happened to Jimmy, I was mad at the world. We’d have family get-togethers and they’d have a big prayer and I’d walk into the other room. I was mad at God.”
Then came the moment Kris had been talking about.
“Years later I was helping coach at the state meet at Ohio State and there was a woman there in her 30s and she couldn’t even eat solid food. She lived on baby food and yet there she was doing the 400-meter walk.
“She came in in first place and she was so excited. She was crying and falling down and I was there holding her and crying and falling down, too.
“And then I looked up and it was like ‘BANG! This is where you are supposed to be. This is why you are here!’
“It was my come-to-Jesus moment and it’s all been good since.”
While Kris still runs a home care agency with their daughter, Jim, now 60, has retired and has dedicated himself full time to volunteering with Special Olympics. He coaches, transports athletes, mentors kids and serves on the board of the Dayton Battle of the Businesses, the annual fund raiser that he said brings in $60,000 to S80,000 a year for Special Olympics.
He is one of Kleiser’s most dependable assistants and salutes her for the success of the Huber Heights Special Olympics, an effort which she started with Joanie Bostleman, another teacher, 23 years ago. They had three athletes and now there’s close to 100, ranging in age from eight to 70.
“She’s just passionate in helping people with special needs,” Jim said. “It’s like a family.”
He and Kris are especially appreciative because they know first-hand their “brave kids” don’t have an easy path.
When Jimmy was in kindergarten, they said a school psychologist pressed them to put him on Ritalin. They balked and when their son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy soon after, they said there were told the drug could have triggered seizures.
At work Kris said she used to listen to a co-worker talk about “retards “all day long: “She tossed that word around like she was passing out newspapers.”
Kris asked her not to use the word, that it “hurt “her, but the woman, who knew of Jimmy’s special needs, kept it up, saying she didn’t understand why it was a big deal.
Regardless of any slings or snubs, Jimmy began to blossom with Special Olympics. Yet that process was initially tough to handle for Kris and Jim, who were over-protective.
“I’ll never forget the first time Jimmy stayed overnight with the team at state,” Jim said. “The next day his mom came to see him. He was there with his new friends, but he came over and gave her a hug. And then he walked back to the kids he’d been with.
“She was devastated, but I said, ‘It’s not our weekend. It’s his weekend. We’ve got to let him go.’”
But before he’d left on the trip, Jimmy had gotten some advice from his dad, advice that still resonates now, Jim said:
“I sat there with him and said, ‘Look, you need to man up a little bit and put your Big Boy pants on.’
“And later, when his friend Izaiah first came to state, he started to pout a little bit, too. I happened to look in the room and there was Jimmy with his arm around him, telling him, ‘Izaiah, it’s time to put your Big Boy pants on. You’ll be OK.’”
You can hear the delight in Jim’s voice when he tells stories like this.
Kris hears it, too:
“Jim’s opened his heart. His best friends used to be his buddies sitting next to him in the bar. Now they have Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy and they’re autistic.
“They’re the people he loves being around now. They’re his best friends.”
About more than sports
Last month when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared before a Congressional subcommittee to defend her department’s decision to eliminate funding for Special Olympics – a decision that would have cut $17.6 million – Kris said, “My heart just dropped. I thought they had no clue of all the good Special Olympics does.
“Some of these kids, the only time they get out, is at these events. I was just so angry.”
While Kleiser said the funding cut – which drew condemnation from both sides of the aisle and soon was walked back by the White House – wouldn’t have hurt the financial standing of the Huber Heights program, which is well-funded by private donations and fundraisers, she was dismayed by the way she felt “the kids were being marginalized.”
Such dismissive relegation is against everything people like Jim and Kris stand for.
They host an annual Halloween party that this past year drew 120 people – most of them Special Olympians and other people with disabilities — to the Masonic Lodge. And every year they turn a trailer into a decorated float that features Special Olympians in the annual Huber Heights Independence Day parade.
Then there is the torch run that Jimmy will take part in in late June.
He admitted he’s already “really nervous” about the task.
Jim smiled: “He’ll get really nervous before events because he wants to do everything just right. When he graduated from Wayne, he was up there on the stage holding his breath the whole time. I was afraid he was going to pass out. I was trying to get him to breathe and finally he got through it.”
Kleiser said that’s another example for those who are dismissive about Special Olympics:
“It’s about so much more than just running across a finish line and hugging. The athletes are learning life situations, things that go on far beyond their sports. Their families are learning that, too.”
As Jimmy’s world keeps broadening, he’s continuing to win trophies and make new friends and now he has a steady girlfriend, Shelby Fetters.
They met on a Special Olympics bowling lane and now do a lot together. He’ll have lunch with her during her break from her job at Burger King. Her family took him on a trip to New York City and then a cruise to the Bahamas. The two of them ride a four-wheeler and an ATV around her family’s 19 acres.
Recently, he asked her dad if he could give her a promise ring.
So the other day when Jimmy was showing me his ribbons and medals at his home in Huber Heights, I asked him to tell me two things he likes about Shelby, who happened to be in the next room with Jim and Kris.
He thought a bit and eventually said he appreciated how she helps him pick up the sticks and limbs that have fallen on those 19 acres.
“How about one more thing?” I pressed.
As he wracked his brain, I finally suggested: “Well, how about that’s she’s nice or pretty or just fun to be with?”
He grinned sheepishly and shrugged: “Man … I had a brain fart there.”
“Never mind, we all have them, “I said.
And besides his mom had saved the day.
When Kris sent me the track photos, she included a few other pictures, including one of Jimmy and Shelby, cheek to cheek, his head on her shoulder.
Sometimes a photo does tell the whole story.