Jeanne, Amy, and Dane. This dynamic trio has already made strides together, and they’re not finished yet. Coming fresh off winning gold at the Region J Spring Games, this team aims to reach another feat together – win gold at Summer Games.
Dane Rockafellow, a.k.a. “Texas Tornado,” says going to state has been a dream of his. When he first started with Special Olympics Illinois, it was through a bowling team. Over time, Dane improved his skills and kept competing in matches. Finally, when he had an opportunity to advance to the State Bowling tournament, Dane was beat by only a couple pins, and missed his chance.
Fast forward to a Region J athletics event, Dane thought to himself, “I’d like to try that out!” Dane is legally blind, and although he does have a small amount of sight, he still would require assistance competing in any track and field event. When Dane announced his goal of trying out this new sport, his caretaker, Amy, was hesitant. But nevertheless, Dane persisted and decided to give it his best.
This year, at the Region J Spring Games, Dane got on the track to try his hand at the assisted 50m race for the first time. “It’s like a power walk for me,” says Dane. In the assisted race, the athlete holds onto a bar, which connects to a rope, leading the athlete to the finish line.
Dane approached the starting line, and when the gun sounded, he was off. “I walked really fast until the end,” said Dane. After crossing the finish line, to his surprise, Dane realized he had won. And not only that, Dane had won a gold medal, earning himself a spot at the state Summer Games.
Dane had accomplished his goal.
Having been born in Texas, Dane was bestowed the name, “Texas Tornado,” by a friend. He met his caretaker, Amy Foster, who is an Athlete Leader with Special Olympics Illinois, out in the community around Edwardsville. Amy works with Dane through a program with the Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Together, Amy and Dane prepare for his Special Olympics Illinois competitions and stay on top of his exercise routine by walking every day. Dane even walks Amy’s dog at times, with support. Outside of their professional relationship, the two are friends.
“I found out that Dane liked karaoke,” Amy said, “and I had never tried it. He’s a really great karaoke singer.” It turns out, Dane has been an avid karaoke performer for nearly 30 years. Amy and Dane go out together to sing karaoke – mostly country songs.
Besides sharing their musical talents, Dane and Amy have been heavily involved in the community. “I’ve spent a lot of time advocating for people with disabilities, helping local lawmakers better understand what it’s like to be visually impaired,” Dane said. His advocacy recently helped improve building accessibility in the local Amtrak station. He also just completed his term as President of the Board for Impact Center for Independent Living.
At the moment, Dane’s focus is competing at Summer Games this weekend in Bloomington-Normal. “He’s just so excited to compete at state,” says his coach, Jeanne.
Jeanne has been coaching with Special Olympics for 60 years, first starting with her daughter in Missouri. She met Dane through Special Olympics Illinois when Amy introduced them. Jeanne and Amy have known each other for many years, as they have been on the same “Region 2” team. “Jeanne is like a second mom to me,” Amy said.
Now after working together, these three are ready to take on their next challenge. Unfortunately, Jeanne will not be able to attend Summer Games this year, but she will be cheering Dane on from home. “Jeanne hopes I will win gold at Summer Games,” Dane said, “but I told her, no matter what happens, I will try my best.”
Dane will compete in the assisted 100m walk on Friday at 3:00 PM on Illinois State University’s track. He cannot wait for his first Summer Games.
To learn more about Summer Games, or to sign up as a volunteer, go to soill.org/summergames.