Waimea resident Gilbert Acosta was recently honored as the 2020 Special Olympics Hawaii Outstanding State Male Athlete of the Year.
Acosta, 30, joined Special Olympics in 2009 as a Honokaa Hawks. He has participated in every season for 12 years, competing in track, softball and basketball. In 2018, his team earned the opportunity to represent the state in the National Special Olympics Summer Games held in Seattle.
“Helps me get better and stay healthy and fit and get in shape. Helps me to have all my special friends,” said Acosta of how Special Olympics Hawaii has helped him.
The athlete’s dedication was showcased this year when COVID-19 took hold and ended the regular season. Special Olympics Hawaii subsequently provided an at-home fitness program for athletes and also started weekly Zoom workouts and a Friday night dance. Acosta attended those workouts and fitness classes regularly, navigating the Zoom IDs and managing his time schedule and computer access independently.
He also joined his teammates in practicing and competing in Special Olympics first-ever Virtual Aukake Fitness Challenge and Holiday Fitness Competition. These events were an alternative created by Special Olympics former Athletic Director Blythe Yamamoto after the realization that in-person practices and competitions were not going to resume quickly.
Blythe created a video training for coaches to teach athletes proper form and technique for specific fitness exercises, such as planks, push-ups and squats. Each athlete would practice from their own home via Zoom with their coach. An area competition was held with neighboring island athletes competing in different break-out rooms for timing and scoring.
Acosta excelled in both virtual challenges, earning first place in jumping jacks with 33 in 30 seconds and side-to-side hops with 37 in 30 seconds. He took third in pushups with 15 in 30 seconds. Taking first was Zachary from Kona with 19 pushups in 30 seconds.
To make the wins even more exciting and memorable, Hawaii Police Department Sgt. Jason Grouns arranged for all Special Olympians who competed in the competitions to receive their medals via home delivery by police officers. Officers showed up at each athlete’s home with award pillows and medals immediately after the competition was complete.
When the time came for coaches to submit recommendations for Male Athlete of the Year, Acosta was nominated and ultimately selected as Male Athlete of the Year. He received his award virtually at the Holiday Jam on Dec. 3 at the Holiday Jam.
Grouns, who is the interisland liaison for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, drove all the way to Waimea from Hilo during his off-duty time to personally present Acosta with his award. In Waimea, he met up with Patrol Officer Kui Dela Cruz to present the award immediately following the live announcement.