Joey Wheeler works a full-time job in a retirement community, walks dogs seven days a week, serves as an usher at two churches, paints, spreads the word about Special Olympics as a Global Messenger, and plays bocce and golf. He gives and gets from society and contributes to every environment he’s in.
While many of us have busy schedules and impact the communities we’re a part of, Joey’s busy schedule only tells part of his story.
His mom Jill explains some of the challenges he’s faced: “Things certainly haven’t been easy for Joey. When he was three he had his first stroke, which was not diagnosed. Then when he was seven, he had a massive one. He struggled with the friendship kind of things. He struggled in school. But thankfully he has a family.. parents, grandparents, a sister and brother-in-law... who really care about him, see the good in him and celebrate that.”
It seems that everywhere Joey goes, he finds those people who celebrate him -- and that isn’t by accident. Joey is a magnet for kindness; he has a warm personality and embraces everyone.
“People should understand that all people are different and should respect them for who they are,” he said.
His Dad, Matt, shares Joey’ impact in another way: “People typically refer to me as ‘Joey’s Dad’ but our neighbor the other day was somehow referred to as ‘Joey’s neighbor.’ ”
While Joey is constantly serving others, he still has a competitive spirit in him.
Joey once played multiple sports but because of his busy schedule, he’s limited to just bocce. Now Monday nights for Joey are all about bocce. He and his coach, who also is his Dad, pack the car up and head over to Burke Lake Park for practice. At practice, they are joined by the Fairfax Police Department, who have signed on this year to be Unified partners, competing alongside the team.
“What has Special Olympics done for Joey? It’s the people,” Matt said. “He has met individuals who may not be the star athlete some place, but they have an opportunity to compete. They have an opportunity to be just like anyone else.”