By Kim Constantinesco
At six-foot-four, Thomas Shervington was born to play basketball. And tennis. And softball. And soccer. And golf. And bocce.
The reason extends well beyond his size and athleticism, however. Through sports and the Special Olympics, the 19-year-old from Tampa, Florida has found his voice. Literally.
Diagnosed with autism at three years old, Shervington couldn’t string sentences together until six years ago when his parents encouraged him to join the Special Olympics.
Today, not only does he proudly boast 10 state medals in various sports, but he speaks to audiences all over Tampa and its surrounding area as a global messenger, touting the benefits of the very program that connects him to the world, and fills his heart to the brim.
“He has grown from a shy withdrawn child who could hardly speak to anyone to someone who’s out there motivating and encouraging other people,” his mother, Buffie, said.
All Sports All The Time
Thomas was in day care when the Child Find program suggested he be tested for autism. There were small clues along the way, mainly stemming from his quiet nature and a desire to isolate himself from others.
Otherwise a healthy boy, Thomas’ parents enrolled him in gymnastics to get him involved in something. However, they couldn’t really find any team sports that catered toward kids with special needs.
“One of the big disappointments for my husband with Thomas being autistic was he wasn’t able to do the whole coaching Little League thing. That was really hard on my husband,” Buffie said. “That kind of put a distance between him and our son.”
Some friends suggested a soccer league for Thomas, and because of his size, he was paired with the older kids, most of whom had been involved in Special Olympics.
“The kids said, ‘Thomas should come out and play basketball with us,’ Buffie explained.
So, the Shervinton’s jumped straight in and haven’t looked back.
“When we started with basketball and tennis, I was quick to volunteer my husband, Tom. I pushed him into being part of it, which allowed him to connect more with Thomas.”
Tom, who is currently working in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst, also helped coached his son’s team to a gold medal in softball.
“My dad and I became closer because he coached my team,” Thomas said.
And, just because Tom is overseas doesn’t mean that he still isn’t involved.
“Two years ago, when his softball team was playing in Orlando at the Fall Classic, Coach Tom was giving them pep talks over the iPad from Afghanistan,” Buffie said. “He’s still out there talking to the teams from overseas.”
“I Have Extra Abilities”
Special Olympics is something that an entire family can be a part of. Because Thomas is involved with the athlete leadership program as a global messenger, Buffie is his speech coach.
Thomas has spoken at the Chamber of Commerce and at events like the Breakfast of Champions. He has even been invited to talk to the sales staff of the Tampa Bay Lightning, motivating them to sell more tickets to benefit the Special Olympics.
“I travel to different locations and different communities, and talk to them about the Special Olympics and how they can get involved,” Thomas said. “I tell them that it’s free for the athletes to participate, and they can get involved in different ways by volunteering and coaching.”
Thomas doesn’t just try to get people to sign on the proverbial dotted line either. He inspires others, too.
“He recently gave a speech and said, ‘People think I have a disability, and I think I have extra abilities,'” Buffie said. “He’s absolutely my hero. I can’t say enough about what he accomplishes on a daily basis. He doesn’t have bad days. He wakes up every day with the most positive attitude.”
And, that will make any athlete’s game stronger.
Whether on the court, the field, or up on stage, Thomas stands tall, brave and proud in every single attempt — the true mark of a top-notch Special Olympics athlete and ambassador.
If you’d like to keep up with Thomas’ athletic adventures, follow him on Facebook.