Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For 24 years, Denise Lindsey has been a shining light for Special Olympics West Hawaii.
Her introduction to the organization came in 1996 when she was paddling with the Keauhou Canoe Club. The club hosted special events for special needs. One of the coaches was with Special Olympics and asked her if she would like to help.
“When she mentioned Special Olympics, everyone thinks of it as just track and field, which I was one of those people,” she said. “Oh gosh, when she told me they did other things and mentioned power lifting I said, ‘OMG, that’s my sport!’”
Lindsey started powerlifting in 1985 and was already competitive when she first hooked up with Special Olympics.
“They needed a coach and that was it, hook line and sinker. I never turned back,” Lindsey recalled. “It was a great marriage and I’ve been a coach ever since then. I look forward to it every year.”
In addition to her role as powerlifting coach, she is area director for West Hawaii, which encompasses North Kohala to Ka‘u. She has her hands in everything including fundraising, finances, scheduling games, booking the parks and swimming pools, finances and fundraising.
“There’s a beaucoup list of volunteers,” she said. “I’m not the sole angel there. There’s a lot of people who back me up.”
One of those volunteers is Hawaii Police Department Officer Kuilee Dela Cruz, who has worked with Lindsey for the last eight years.
“I can honestly say she is someone who I can always count on to help if I need,” said Dela Cruz.
Lindsey’s commitment to Special Olympics is beyond words, he said.
“During the season of sporting events, she looks at bringing out the best in every athlete and makes sure that they have their special moment that they all deserve,” Dela Cruz said. “No matter how much time or stress it takes, she will make sure the outcome will benefit the athletes always.”
But, right now, everything is on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That has not stopped Lindsey’s dedication to the athletes. She has set up online “Zooming with athletes.”
“Since our sports have been on hold we said let’s just get something going,” said Lindsey.
Using her experience as a certified personal trainer she developed a workout program for the athletes.
“It’s been just wonderful. They love it,” she said. “The best part about it is they get to see their friends, because they have been isolated like everyone else. They’re not sure what’s happening. They know something is wrong. They’re like, why can’t I see Johnny.”
The athletes look forward to the socialization with their friends, volunteers and coaches.
“It’s a hardship for them,” she said. “For many of the athletes, it is their sole socialization. To see their teammate on Zoom is unbelievable, their smiles and waves … it’s remarkable.”
Working with Full Life, Lindsey offers athletes many virtual classes. From music class, movie socials, art class with Donkey Mill Art Center, to Zumba and Hula, there is a class available six days a week.
“I’m no hero, my heroes are the athletes,” she said. “They’re the ones who make me do the things I do. To put a smile on their face puts a smile back on my face.”
Dela Cruz added Lindsey deserves the gratitude as she’s the one that always “stays in the shadows, letting the athletes shine, as they should.”
“She does not expect any gratitude or awards for what she does and takes in the feeling of gratification of seeing the athletes accomplish things no one expects them to do, as do all us volunteers,” he said. “We are fortunate and should be honored to have someone like this in our community, who is there and gives all that she can for ‘our’ Special Olympics athletes! I know she is a hero in everyone’s eyes who are a part of the West Hawaii Special Olympics Ohana, and it’s the time to let our community know what a gem we have in West Hawaii.”
Nearly a quarter century after first hooking up with Special Olympics, the powerlifter has no plans of stepping down.
“I don’t mind doing it day after day after day, there’s a lot of work that goes into making it work but it fills your heart with joy,” said Lindsey. “Why would I stop?”
Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to email@example.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.