OKEECHOBEE — Some of the Special Olympic athletes are taking extra precautions with COVID-19, because they fall into a category which makes them or their family more vulnerable to the infection. Both, Tom Gorney and Connie Sue Doyle are in this category. Tom is 64 and Connie is 73 years old, so both of them are at an age where they have to be careful. Tom said he has to be careful not to bring COVID home to his parents too. Connie lives with her brother and her sister-in-law. Her sister-in-law, Toni, recently contracted a lung infection caused by mold which put her in the hospital for 13 days. Now, she has damage to her lungs from this mold, so they take extra precautions on her behalf as well. Both Tom and Connie have been staying close to home since the coronavirus reared its ugly head in early March.
Tom was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He has been a part of Special Olympics since it began and has always done every event offered, from bowling to track and field to bicycling. Bowling has always been his favorite though.
Tom has the distinction of being one of the few people known to have been struck by lightning not once but twice and lived to talk about it. The first time was in Michigan when he was only 10 years old. He was outside catching rain water on the front porch at his grandparents’ house when he was hit. “If it wasn’t for our grandmother,” he would have died, said his sister, Annette Summerford. “My grandmother resuscitated him the whole way to the hospital.” Tom said there was a tree about 10 feet away from him when the lightning struck, and it split the tree in half. “I seen it coming. It split the tree in two, came straight on through and then got me!” He stayed in the hospital for quite a while but eventually recovered.
He was struck for the second time here in Okeechobee while working. He was on the back of a truck and was holding onto a metal piece of equipment when the lightning struck. “It came right up my arm!” That time, they checked him out at the hospital, but he did not have to stay.
Tom and his family moved to Okeechobee in 1976 and he worked at the Okeechobee Rehab Facility laying sod. After the rehab closed, he spent 37 years working for Jay Zeller for Tom’s Candy before finally retiring. He helped stock the candy and soda machines all over town.
Since he has been staying home, he has been working around the yard. One of the latest projects is building bee boxes with his dad. Though Tom does not like staying home all the time, he finds ways to stay busy, and he understands why it is important. “I like to work,” he said. “It’s a lot better than sitting around doing nothing.”
Connie was born in Ohio and the family came to visit Florida on vacations. When she moved to Okeechobee in 1977, she began going to the Okeechobee Rehab Facility and worked at their thrift store, sorting clothes and helping where needed.
There were eight siblings in Connie’s family, and Joe was her favorite. She has lived with her brother Joe and his wife Toni for over 24 years now. “We are her parents now,” said Toni. “She is like having an 8-year-old. She’s our oldest youngest child.”
Connie enjoys playing bingo and loves bowling, but she is a creature of habit and does not like to be away from home for long, said Toni. One of Connie’s favorite pastimes is embroidery. She has been doing it since she was young girl, and Toni thinks she was most likely taught by her mother. Bowling is an activity Connie has enjoyed for a long time as well. She did this with her brother even before she joined Special Olympics. Other than bowling and embroidery, Connie also likes to go shopping and loves birthday parties. Of course, both of those things have been curtailed due to the virus, said Toni. The family has chickens, and Connie enjoys taking care of them and getting the eggs. It gives her a little exercise and activity, something to do outside. She used to love riding a three-wheeled bike, but she has gotten too old for that now, said Toni.
Connie also loves to color. She loves Mickey Mouse and anything Disney. She has loved Mickey Mouse for as long as anyone can remember. Joe had to build a shelf along three walls of her bedroom to hold all of her Mickey Mouse things. She has collected these things all her life, said Toni.
When Connie was a teenager, her sister Patty took her to see Elvis Presley in concert, and he shook her hand. She has every Elvis album or cassette and loves listening to Elvis. The family buys her an Elvis calendar every year. “He’s her man,” laughed Toni. “Well him and Chuck Norris.”
Connie’s caregiver is Cathy Davis Culligan. Connie and Cathy spend a lot of time together and Toni said Cathy is a Godsend, the best caregiver she has ever met.