Competition brings out social side of this athlete

Christopher Summers practices throwing the softball at track practice at Robert E. Fitch High School in preparation for the Special Olympics Summer Games. DANA JENSEN/THE DAY

Christopher Summers says he's going to throw just like the Yankees players do.

He is competing in the softball throw and the 50-meter and 100-meter dashes in the Special Olympics of Connecticut Summer Games. His father, Tom Summers, said the New York Yankees are Christopher's favorite team.

"Yes!" said Christopher, 21, of Groton.

He does not like the Boston Red Sox.

"Bah," he said in disgust.

Christopher, who was born with Down syndrome, is a four-sport athlete. He runs track in the spring, plays golf in the summer, bowls in the fall and plays basketball in the winter. Basketball is his favorite.

Participating in the Special Olympics has helped Christopher become more independent and sociable, his parents say. And he has made good friends through the program.

"He'll recognize a lot of kids from the other delegations. He'll go up and give them hugs and high-fives," Tom Summers said.

With a big smile, Christopher piped in and said, "Ladies."

"He's a big flirt," his mom, Sandy Summers, said.

"And he's a ham," Tom Summers added.

Christopher is looking forward to the festivities that are part of the games, including a dance and a pizza party. In a disco style, he rolled his hands, gave a thumbs-up sign to one side, rolled again and gave a thumbs-up sign to the other side.

On a recent Thursday night, Christopher and other local athletes gathered at the track at the Robert E. Fitch Senior High School. They meet there once a week.

"The thing about Special Olympics, for any athlete, is it really brings out an individual's unique aspects," said Maxine Pearcy, one of Christopher's coaches. "For Chris, it brings out the talkative side."

"When he first showed up, he wouldn't talk to anyone," added Pearcy, who has known Christopher since 2008.

He has competed in the Special Olympics in different states for more than a decade. Tom Summers was stationed, among other places, in Arizona and Georgia when he served in the Army.

The family returned home to Connecticut in 2008 after he retired as a sergeant first class. Tom and Sandy Summers were high school sweethearts and both graduated from Fitch in 1980.

Christopher will graduate from the same high school June 22.

"He can't wait. He keeps asking for his cap and gown but they haven't gotten here yet," Sandy Summers said.

When he's not at school, Christopher cooks and cleans at Puffins On The Thames. He recently learned to take orders and serve at the Thames Street restaurant. He also loves to play video games and read the Japanese manga series, "Naruto," with his older sister, Shannon.

After graduation, Christopher plans to stay at the restaurant and try working at the other locations for Seabird Enterprises, which owns Puffins and provides job opportunities to people with physical and developmental disabilities.

"He likes being active," Sandy Summers said.

After stretching and warming up at the Thursday practice, Christopher practiced sprinting and throwing. He gave one of the assistant coaches a big hug after a successful throw.

"He's very, very loving," Pearcy said. "He's very compassionate. He has just got to get to know you. Once he does, he's not letting go."



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