On a recent weekday afternoon, Tyler Morimoto’s endurance as a cross-country runner was on display as the teen glided around Roosevelt High School’s outdoor track, barely breaking a sweat as he swiftly rounded the corners of the school’s football field in long strides.
The slender runner has been training daily to be at his best as he prepares to head to Abu Dhabi in a few months. The 17-year-old junior has been selected to represent Hawaii on Team USA at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games. He’ll be competing as a runner in the mid-distance events — 3K, 1500 and the 4X4 relay.
The Special Olympics World Games, held every two years, is described as the world’s largest humanitarian sporting event and a global movement that focuses on empowering athletes with intellectual disabilities through the power of sport. It will be held March 14-21.
Tyler, who was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, has participated in various Special Olympics sports since he was 9 years old. He credits his years of playing basketball, soccer, track and field, softball and bowling with the organization for boosting his confidence and self-esteem.
“It’s honestly just such an honor,” he said. “The thing I like most about cross-country is just to work hard and be the best you can be … just my friends encouraging and pushing me to the limit.”
Tyler runs for Roosevelt’s cross-country team and previously played on the school’s football team. He also performs at a high level academically, earning a spot on the Principal’s List his freshman year with a 3.5 GPA.
His parents, Art and Dee Morimoto, got word last summer that their son was selected to be on Team USA. Dee Morimoto said she kept reading the email over and over in almost disbelief at the opportunity being presented.
Tyler flew to the East Coast in September for a weeklong training camp where athletes were assessed for their physical, social and emotional fitness to compete in the Special Olympics World Games. Tyler made the cut. (Read his Team USA athlete bio here.)
“I was just like in shock … I was like, wait a second, you’re actually telling me I’m actually selected?” Tyler recalled of hearing the initial news. “Even if I was being selected, I still knew that I had to work hard no matter what. I was mostly humbled but at the same time being very happy.”
Dee Morimoto says her son has come a long way since being diagnosed as a baby with gross motor delays. Tyler was unable to turn over, sit up on his own, crawl or walk until much later than other developed toddlers his age. Through working with Easter Seals Hawaii, he began to develop his motor skills and strengthen his muscles over time.
“It’s a real honor to see Tyler compete at a high level. He has gone through so many struggles,” she said. “He did Easter Seals for a long time and graduated and got to walk and into running and everything. So to see him now, where he is, it’s like, wow. (From) those small beginnings to this awesome opportunity now, it’s pretty awesome.”
She said Tyler has been preparing and training “pretty much seven days a week.”
The family is fundraising to help with the cost to have Tyler’s parents accompany him on his journey to the World Games — more than 8,700 miles away. Tyler says his parents are his biggest fans and greatest support unit and he wants to have them along for the ride.
“It is extremely expensive to go to Abu Dhabi. Tyler wants us there, so it comes from Tyler’s perspective of him wanting us to be by his side,” Dee Morimoto said. “It really, really is an awesome opportunity, not just to get there, but to see Tyler compete at a higher level — actually this is the highest level you can compete in Special Olympics.”
The family has set a goal to raise $15,000 to help with travel expenses, transportation and lodging. As an athlete, Tyler is responsible for contributing $1,000 toward his trip.
Anyone interested in helping can visit the Morimotos’ Go Fund Me page. Donations can also be mailed to Tyler at P.O. Box 12275, Honolulu, HI 96828.
As the family counts down the days until the big day, Tyler is requesting positive vibes and prayers from his home state.
“I know I have to do all the hard work … (and) just use that power inside of me to show in Abu Dhabi that I’m just coming there as a humble person but also to try to win the gold to make my team proud,” Tyler said.
“For my family and my friends to see me win, they’ll just be so happy,” he said. “As long as you guys pray for me and as long as you have hope in me that I will do good, then that’s that.”