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A story of gold and glory: Palmerton woman to compete in the Special Olympics World Games

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    Delina Rodrigues competes in a powerlifting competition. The Palmerton girl will be traveling to the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi to compete in March. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published February 16. 2019 06:25AM


Twenty-four years ago, in a single life-altering moment, Dave and Christine Rodrigues learned the shocking news about their 4-month-old daughter. Delina had been diagnosed with severe brain damage.

“She was going to have a permanent intellectual disability for the rest of her life,” Christine said. “We had to accept the reality that our daughter would never be able to be like most others.”

Now, jump to another life-altering moment for the Rodrigues family.

Delina Rodrigues will be a member of the United States powerlifting team next month at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The early struggles

For the first five years of her life, Delina had difficulty with ordinary functions. She didn’t talk. She struggled to walk. She drooled when she opened her mouth. She wore diapers until she was 5 years old.

“Our daughter had therapy three days a week, and we hoped she would improve,” Christine said. “The doctors kept telling us that nothing could be done. They said she would never be athletic. She couldn’t even be a cheerleader. We were told that at best she could be a bookworm.”

Dave and Christine would have to find schools for their daughter that could address her special needs. Although the family, which included their sons, Darris and Bo, lived in Palmerton, Delina had to be transported first to L.B. Morris Elementary School in Jim Thorpe and then to Carbon Career & Technical Institute for life skills classes. She would graduate from CCTI at age 21.

Special times in the Special Olympics

When Delina was 10, her parents enrolled her in the Carbon County Special Olympics program. She began to bowl and play floor hockey. Then she tried track and field.

“She did very well and enjoyed the competition of sports and won gold medals in 100, 200, 400, and 4X100 relay track events,” Christine said.

In 2013 and 2014, Delina represented Pennsylvania at a national track and field event in Princeton, New Jersey. She won silver and bronze medals in the 100 and 200 meter races.

After five years in the program, Delina showed an interest in powerlifting.

When asked what prompted this interest, her mother was quick to answer.

“She liked being around the boys,” Christine said with a laugh, “and so she began weightlifting training at Dedicated Fitness in Palmerton.”

Delina loved powerlifting, and two years later when weighing 150 pounds, she lifted 220 pounds in the dead lift.

At the Special Olympics Pennsylvania held at Villanova University in November 2017, she won a gold and two silvers in the powerlifting events. She also won silver and bronze medals in the 100 and 200 meter races.

She qualified for the USA team, but that simply meant her name would be put into a hat with other winners and then the team would be randomly selected.

“We didn’t think Delina would be picked, and it was a long day, so we were driving home when we heard she was selected for the USA team. We were so happy for her.”

Delina returned to Villanova in November 2018 and won gold in the bench, back squat and dead lift events.

‘She’s my hero’

Delina Rodrigues will be one of three women on an eight-member United States powerlifting team at the Special Olympics World Games in March. She will compete against a group of athletes selected from more than 200 countries.

“She can’t comprehend the magnitude of these games, and that’s a good thing,” Christine said. “She’s very competitive, but she’s OK if she doesn’t win. She doesn’t get upset.”

While Delina will travel to Abu Dhabi with the U.S. team, Christine will go with her son, Darris.

“Too many parents of special needs children shelter their kids,” Christine said. “They are different, of course, and once in a while they might embarrass you with their behavior in a public place, but you have to give them opportunities to interact with people. If you shelter them, they will always be timid. The Special Olympics program has certainly helped our daughter with her social skills and with her confidence.”

When asked to describe how she feels now about her daughter when thinking about the struggles during infancy and knowing now she will be representing her country at the World Games, Christine answered through her motherly tears.

“I am in awe of my daughter. She’s fun to be with. She’s kind. She’s full of energy and determination.

“I wish I was more like her. Delina has changed who we are.”

After a second emotional pause, Christine added, “She’s my hero.”

The World Games are scheduled for March 14-21. There will be a send-off celebration for Delina on March 2 at L.B. Morris Elementary School in Jim Thorpe. The public is invited to come and wish her well.


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