Hall of Fame
Special Olympics honors Newark man
Jon Stoklosa has a tattoo of Superman’s insignia on his arm. Earlier this month, he was recognized as a hero himself when he was inducted into the Special Olympics Delaware Hall of Fame.
“I’m a hero,” he said. “I’m happy.”
Stoklosa is known for his powerlifting, where he has benched 405 pounds raw. In his career, he’s racked up accolades, too: in the 1999 Special Olympics World Games, he won gold and two bronze medals. A few years later, he earned the title of the 2006 Special Olympics Delaware Outstanding Athlete. As he continued to compete, he went on to win four gold medals at the 2010 USA Games. In the 2014 USA Games, he took three golds and a silver.
“It’s fun, and you work hard,” he said.
His father, Hank, added that the attention he gets from it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Jon began powerlifting with his two brothers when he was 11 years old – “in the basement, like everybody else started,” Liz, his mother, added.
He beat his brothers in bench and began competing in the Special Olympics when he was 16.
“Jonathan has had a excellent career in Special Olympics,” Hank said. “But all the time that he spent getting ready and everything, it was sort of a waste because they had very few meets, so we started going to regular meets.”
Traveling and competing through 10 states, Jon often took second or third in those meets, occasionally coming in first, too. Hank said that sometimes people have underestimated Jon due to the fact he has Down syndrome, but that hasn’t stopped him.
“One day, a whole bunch of guys, they kept looking at him like, ‘Get out of my way, get out of my way,’” Hank recalled. “His opening attempt was 365 pounds and he put away put away 75 percent of the people in there. It was a learning experience for them.”
In addition to teaching people through his actions, Jon travels to different schools around the area as part of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which endeavors to eliminate the derogatory use of the word “retarded.”
“The only r-word is respect,” Liz said, adding that sometimes students see Jon after he’s spoken at their school and come up to him and say they remember his talk. “That’s a good thing because the kids remember.”
“It takes a lot of time,” Hank added. “People don’t realize that Jon has to take off work to do that.”
Jon has worked at the Pike Creek Acme since 2004, and his parents said that it’s been a supportive environment for him. Some of the staff came to cheer him on when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame Oct. 10.
Although he has described lifting as his life, Jon is an athlete of many trades, including volleyball, basketball, swimming, golfing and bowling. He’s recently taken up boxing, which he does twice a week, in addition to training for weightlifting twice a week. He also wrestled throughout his high school career at Newark High School.
“He won one match and 61 he lost, but he never stopped,” Hank noted. “When do school talks, we talk about that – that dedication to go just like all the other guys did.”
And that, in part, Hank said, is why Jon was inducted into the Hall of Fame during the Special Olympics Night of Heroes banquet.
“Powerlifting was one area, but it wasn’t the only reason he got this,” Hank said.
Beyond his athletic success, Jon participates in fundraisers to support Special Olympics – he’s darted into the freezing water in February at Rehoboth Beach for the annual Polar Bear Plunge for 15 years. He’s repelled down the side of a 222-foot building in Wilmington for Over the Edge. He’s run through downtown Newark, across the University of Delaware’s campus and along the James F. Hall Trail for the Reindeer Run and Romp.
Through all of that – and more – Hank said that Jon exemplifies the goals of Special Olympics. And he does so fearlessly.
“He does focus on these goals. He doesn’t know these goals here; he couldn’t tell you what they are. He just knows them here,” he said, patting his chest.
Jon Stoklosa is inducted into the Special Olympics Hall of Fame during Night of Heroes on Oct. 10.