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Care to Spare

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An Oviedo cop and a Special Olympics athlete are a dynamic duo at the bowling alley.

Sergeant Carl Rager is celebrating 20 years of service with the Oviedo Police Department this year. An imposing figure with an affable nature, he possesses the professional demeanor and strong commitment to duty we should expect of someone who supervises a squad of patrol officers. There’s hardly anything mean you could say about Carl unless you’re talking about his mean bowling arm, which has earned him a 200-game average.

What does bowling have to do with Carl’s career as a cop? Quite a bit, actually.

Sixteen years ago, when Carl was a community relations officer working out of the C.O.P.S. and Volunteer Center in the Oviedo Mall, it was he who kept the office open after hours for meetings of the Oviedo-Winter Springs Optimist Club, a group of volunteers in the community who serve special-needs youth. Carl was so impressed with the club’s work that he became a member.

At the time, local Optimists sponsored two main sports programs for those with special needs – Little League in the spring and Challenger Football in the fall. Both were great (and both continue to this day), but there were always some local kids who couldn’t play the physically demanding sports, and there was downtime between the seasons. So Carl and his wife Amy pitched an idea to Optimist leaders Dave and Shari Pudles: How about a bowling league?

“Amy and I grew up bowling and, as we got to talking with Dave and Shari, we all agreed that bowling was something almost anyone can do,” says Carl. “Even with physical disabilities, kids can bowl with the help of coaches, ramps, and bumpers.”

Out of that meeting came S.P.A.R.E. (Special People Are Really Extraordinary). Carl and Amy were among the first to volunteer as coaches to help bowlers and their families enjoy the sport they loved so much themselves. One enthusiastic and exceptional bowler at S.P.A.R.E. was a young man named Onyx.

Onyx, who’s now 31 years old, experienced several epileptic episodes when he was only three, leaving him unable to walk or talk for more than a decade. During those long, arduous years, Onyx’s mother Mayte worked relentlessly with doctors to restore her son’s physical health and speech. Though the seizures left Onyx with some intellectual disabilities, they did not take away from his warm personality and dogged determination to be a competitive bowler. He played at S.P.A.R.E. games and joined a league for competitive play at the Oviedo Bowling Center.

It was at the center, nearly 14 years ago, that Carl and Onyx got to know and admire one another. Each played for competing teams but became fast friends.

“Onyx loves bowling,” says Carl. “He bowls three to four times a week, though he’s cut down a bit recently because of his part-time job. He’s got a terrific 185 average and has, on several occasions, come within several points of a perfect game. He received a gold medal as a single bowler in Special Olympics years ago. When I came up with the idea of entering with him as a Unified Doubles team – meaning a special and non-special athlete playing together – he was just thrilled by the idea. I figured, with his average and mine, we’d have a pretty good chance of being selected for competition.”

Their gambit paid off. Carl and Onyx recently made it to the state-level Special Olympics competition in Orlando in the Unified Doubles category.

“When either one of us wasn’t playing our best, we encouraged the other,” says Carl. “I played better the first game, but Onyx found his stride in the second, cheering me on with words like, ‘I got you.’ I’ve helped Onyx, but he’s helped me, too, teaching me not to take it too seriously and to just have fun. It’s why we’re such a good team.”

Their teamwork prevailed. Onyx and Carl, the man Onyx sometimes calls dad, won the gold medal in Unified Doubles.Their win was the perfect embodiment of the Special Olympics motto, which begins, Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

Carl and Onyx, both men of proven bravery, each learning from the other, have forged a friendship more precious than gold.

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