The Mercury News Weekend

Special Olympian spreads message of love

- By John Marshall

Gary Schottle arrived in time to see the other kids in line hitting and jumping on his young son.

Nicknamed “Tank,” Derek towered over the pestering kids, yet lacked the confidence to stick up for himself and was too kindhearte­d to intentiona­lly hurt anyone. Head down, he took the blows without reacting.

Special Olympics changed everything.

Tank felt accepted and confident. He blossomed into a leader, became an inspiratio­n to everyone he met.

Self-assurednes­s allowed Tank to take his message of hope and love to social media, where his daily affirmatio­ns have been a beacon of joy to more than 100,000 followers during the bleak days of a pandemic.

“If you’d have told me back then what he’s doing now, I wouldn’t have believed it. There’s just no way,” Gary Schottle said. “It truly is amazing.”

Special Olympics, founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, have melded competitio­n and confidence for people with intellectu­al disabiliti­es since the first games in 1968. Special Olympics has since branched out to more than 170 countries, empowering more than 5 million athletes who had often been cast aside.

The mission has always been one of acceptance and inclusion.

Tank, a seven-sport athlete, paid it forward.

As a young boy, he lacked social skills, had few friends and was often picked on by other kids.

In 20 years of Special Olympics competitio­n, Tank’s confidence has soared, his leadership spreading across playing fields, the Houston area and beyond.

Tank, 31, has received local and national awards for being an advocate for Special Olympics and anti-bullying. He regularly gives speeches about love and hope.

Tank appeared on TV networks to fight for Special Olympics when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos threatened to halt funding for the organizati­on in 2019.

Once one of the bullied, he has become a living embodiment of the Special Olympics message.

“He’s a gregarious individual, extremely outgoing, always positive,” said Aaron Keith, executive director of the Special Olympics Texas east region, where Tank competes. “What he’s done as a leader and a change agent for individual­s with ID is way bigger than what he’s done on the field.”

The followers soared when Tank brought his message to Twitter.

Tank posts daily messages of love, hope and inspiratio­n that have attracted the attention of celebritie­s like Mark Hamill, Marlee Matlin, Maureen McCormick, Rachel Maddow, former NBA player Rex Chapman — a social media juggernaut in his own right — and NFL player J. J. Watt

He’s thanked doctors and nurses, comforted those who have suffered losses, offered congratula­tions for accomplish­ments and encouragem­ent to others with disabiliti­es.

“I love to spread love and hope for our country and our world,” Tank said. “We should all love one another and bring hope and inspiratio­n to other people.”

It’s turned him into a celebrity. Tank has been featured on local TV and in newspaper stories, and is regularly asked to serve as the announcer on the first tee at golf tournament­s.

Tank was such a popular batboy for the Sugarland Skeeters, the minor league baseball team honored him with a bobblehead night. Fans lined up to take pictures with him after the game.

The mayors of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Concord, Massachuse­tts, declared Dec. 12 and 13 Derek “Tank” Schottle Day when he received awards there.

“It’s interestin­g because you never know what the next day is going to bring,” Gary Schottle said.

 ?? GARY SCHOTTLE VIA AP ?? Derek “Tank” Schottle competes in the 100 meters as part of the pentathlon at a Special Olympics track meet in Texas in 2017.
GARY SCHOTTLE VIA AP Derek “Tank” Schottle competes in the 100 meters as part of the pentathlon at a Special Olympics track meet in Texas in 2017.

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