Being a Special Olympics athlete and a varsity athlete is not a common combination.
But it is Tyler Morimoto‘s combination.
Morimoto, 17, won three gold medals at the Special Olympics World Games, but that incredible haul tells only a sliver of who he really is.
Morimoto is autistic and he has ADHD. He is also what is called “high functioning.” That is not surprising when you realize he has a 3.3 grade-point average at Roosevelt and when you speak with him and see what a motivated, intelligent and goal-oriented person he is.
One of his goals is to go to community college and, if that goes well, attend a four-year school. He’s thinking about studying the culinary arts.
“There’s no limitations,” said his mom, Dee Morimoto on May 24 at ‘Iolani School, the site of the Hawaii Special Olympics Summer Games in which Tyler was competing.
The gold medals came in the 1,500-meter run, the 3,000 and as the anchor for the U.S.’s 4×100 relay team on his trip to the World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March. The actual running competitions were held in Dubai.
Morimoto, who will be a senior in the fall, ran for the Roosevelt cross country and track teams last school year. He is or has been also involved with other Special Olympics sports — basketball, softball, bowling and soccer.
And he is training as a public speaker. Recently, he spoke as an invited guest of the Honolulu Quarterback Club, and he is a Special Olympics “global messenger” involved in spreading the word across the world about the organization. He and other Special Olympics competitors are part of a Toastmasters chapter in Hawaii, learning the craft of public speaking.
“It’s a way to get exposure of Special Olympics to the community,” Morimoto’s trainer Nat Pak said. “To put a face on the message.
“He wants to excel, and his parents expect a lot of him. Grades are as important as his athletics. They’re very active in church and that motivates him as well. Mainly, he’s competitive and wants to be as good and better than everyone else. He’s very respectful. A good kid.”
Pak is the husband of Morimoto’s coach — Lynette Young-Pak — and he watched on ESPN as Morimoto won his gold medals.
“It was a thrill,” Pak said. “When he got back, I asked him if he heard me yelling.”
Pak said that even though Morimoto sometimes has difficulty focusing on various things day to day, he is laser-focused during training.
“He treats practice as if it’s competition,” he said. “So one of the most difficult things is slowing him down in training to work on pace. No matter what lap, he’ll always creep up on pace.”
Dee Morimoto also calls Tyler a good kid with a good heart.
“He wants to serve others and he’s very helpful,” she said. “We’re also Christian, so we told him his word for the World Games was ‘light’ — that he was going to be light. When he was there, they pulled him away from his partner to another who nobody else wanted as a partner. Reluctantly, he went, and this young man took advantage of Tyler’s good nature. Tyler served him, did his laundry, actually forfeited some things to this child. He took some of Tyler’s things. Tyler was gracious about it. We asked him why he didn’t tell the coach. He said, ‘I don’t know mom.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s OK, you did exactly what God wanted you to do. You shared God’s love.’
“We told him that you need to be humble because you represent over 3,000 Hawaii athletes. He was the only male athlete chosen to go to Worlds from Hawaii. We explained to him that, ‘You need to be humble and you need to bring the aloha spirit to the foreign countries and show them what Hawaii is because you are the ambassador of Hawaii, representing all of your fellow athletes in Hawaii.”
To get to really know what a competitor, shining public speaker and ambassador for Special Olympics Tyler is, it’s best to hear what he has to say.
Right after his relay event at the Hawaii Summer Games on May 24, he shared what he talked about in his speech at the QB Club.
“Even though you’re a kid with disabilities and you can’t walk or you can’t sing or whatever it is, a disability doesn’t make who you are,” Morimoto said. “It’s you yourself that makes who God created you to be. You want to be a golfer, football player, it’s gotta be from your heart, and you need to say I’m dedicated, I’m willing to pay the price.
“I’ve got church, I play sports, I play high school sports. I’m a kid with disabilities. I know I am, but do I take the skill levels and do I accomplish it? Yes I do. That’s because God is telling me this is your time. You don’t look at other people, you look at you and say you can do it.
“I’m always open to other people no matter what they do. One day I asked my mom, ‘Why is it that people are always telling me Tyler go here, Tyler go over there’, but the thing was … and I didn’t realize it … since I went to Abu Dhabi, since I won three Gold medals, since I did so good and was an ambassador of aloha and represented all the states and the Hawaiian islands, they said the reason why we’re choosing you is not just because you are going to go to the World Games. It’s also because people all over the world are looking up to you, and as long as you do what you gotta do and get it done, people are going to say what a great guy he is.
“What touches me the most is families, moms, dads and sons and everyone else, they’re so touched. It’s not just my personality of how I talk to them, it’s also the fact that when they see me being the ambassador of aloha, when they see me doing stuff that I’m doing, they think to themselves, you’re my man … ”
Morimoto was impressed with Special Olympics athletes from Fiji and Kenya.
“It was a really good experience, meeting people from all over the world, learning different dances,” Morimoto said. “(An athlete from) Fiji, when I was up for my 3K, he pulled my hand up and he said, ‘Tyler, let me hold your hand up because we’re all winners.’ That moment, I felt touched because no one had done that to me.
“A person from Kenya offered me to come in when I was watching them dance. I was like, ‘Dude, are you kidding me? You would actually do this to me?’ He was like, ‘Just go in man.’ It was heart-touching, man.”
Morimoto’s six months of training for the World Games cut minutes off his time in the 1,500 and 3,000, according to Pak. His times at Worlds were 5:45.46 in the 1,500 and 12:26.55 in the 3,000.
“He put in a lot of miles and a lot of time,” Pak said.
Dee, the mom, said she has to stay on top of Tyler to make sure he’s taking care of his schoolwork — like most mothers do for their teenage sons.
“He works really hard,” she said. “I work hard, making sure he stays on top of it. As long as I keep him accountable — ‘OK, what do you have that is due? What’s next?’ He needs that type of grounding and foundation. I think all kids do.”
Roosevelt is proud of the soon-to-be senior.
“We are proud of Tyler’s accomplishments at the Special Olympics World Games and happy that he was provided the opportunity to compete with others from around the world,” principal Sean Wong said. “He represented the United States, Hawaii, and Roosevelt High School very well.”