OKEECHOBEE — Special Olympian Carol Marker turned 16 in April and celebrated with a surprise drive-by party from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Carol’s dad, Bernard Marker, Carol is a natural fighter. When she was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and they almost lost her. Then, at about 3 months she was rushed to Palms West Hospital because she was having difficulty breathing. They determined she had RSV (Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus), and she was in the NICU for two weeks.
Mr. Marker said, “Carol was always a happy baby. After her third birthday, we began to worry that something was wrong, because she would not speak. She would cry and point when she wanted something. She was diagnosed with autism, and we got her occupational and speech therapy, where she learned sign language to communicate. Finally, one day when she was 4 years old, she was in her room watching TV alone and we heard a voice! We both looked at each other with tears in our eyes. We stood outside her door and listened. All she kept saying was ‘Dora, Dora, Dora.’”
This was a huge milestone and her parents knew then they were going to do whatever it took to help her speak. “Carol has come so far since then. She’s the most caring young lady you will ever meet. She lights up every room she walks in,” said her dad.
As a young child at Seminole Elementary, her teacher, Ms Sickles, would let Carol run circle time. Carol would take over the class, basically, and tell the other kids what the day, date and agenda for the day was. When she moved on to Yearling Middle school her teacher, Ms Santangelo, started a cafe where the kids would make coffee and deliver it to the teachers in the school. Once again, Carol took over and became the leader in the cafe. She then moved to Okeechobee High School, and her teacher there, Ms Kuipers, told her parents her first year there that Carol was a model student and friend to all the kids. She went on to say there was one young man in her class that she was having problems with. He often disrupted the class. One day, he started and Carol was sitting across from him. She looked at him and said, “We’re not going to do this today. Your going to behave.” They never had another problem out of the young man after that.
Carol has always loved playing sports. While at Yearling Middle School, she always told her teacher, Ms. Santangelo, the score to every volleyball game. Her teacher talked to the volleyball coach, and they made Carol an honorary member of the team. She went to all the games, and at one home game it was her time to shine. They put her in the game. The gymnasium erupted in cheers. It was a moment she and her family will never forget. “We will always be grateful to Ms. Santangelo and coaches Ms. Hineman and Ms. Campbell for that.”
Carol joined Special Olympics, and in her first year she won a gold medal in the state bowling competition. She also competed in cheer and now is training for tennis. She was recently honored at a meeting of the Okeechobee Board of County Commissioners after she competed in the State Champion 16 and Under Bowling Division and was named the Gold Medal State Recipient Champion.
When the schools were closed in March, Carol adapted to homeschooling, but she really struggled with missing her friends and Special Olympics. She has been spending her time riding her bike, learning to cook simple meals and is especially enjoying baking with her sister Ashley.
The Marker family has made the decision to do virtual schooling with Carol this year, because they feel it will be difficult for the kids in her class to understand or follow social distancing guidelines. They think it will be hard to make the children keep their masks on as well.
f you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Special Olympics, contact Bernard Marker at 863-801-3393 or you can find them on Facebook at Special Olympics Okeechobee. You can also go to the Special Olympics website, Specialolympicsflorida.org/okeechobee.