Special Olympian from New London goes national for second time

New London's Lonnie Braxton III took his tennis racket and winning smile to Seattle last week to compete with 34 other Connecticut athletes in the Special Olympics USA Games.

He and his tennis partner, Nicholas Leitkowski of Colchester, will be coming home with a gold medal in doubles. Braxton also won a bronze in singles.

It was the second time that Braxton, 48, who was born with Down Syndrome and has far exceeded his life expectancy of 18 years, has competed in the national games. At  his first national games, he won gold and bronze medals in 2010 in Lincoln, Neb.

"He loves the fact that he gets the chance to participate like this," Braxton's father, Lonnie Braxton II, said during a phone call from the West Coast. "He abides by the Special Olympics motto, 'Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.' ''

He played against some tough competitors, his father said, most of whom were taller and had longer reach.

Braxton traveled to Seattle with the team after a sendoff party in Stamford. Team Connecticut comprised 34 athletes representing 33 towns, seven sports and 12 coaches/delegates. His father and mother, Gwendolyn Braxton, met him in Seattle and spent the week cheering for him and the rest of Team Connecticut at the Bill Quillian Tennis Stadium at the University of Washington. The games ended on Friday.

 He was part of the Connecticut organization's unified team, which joins people with and without disabilities and is coached by Emily Malan of  Coventry. He has been playing with his unified partner, Leitkowski, for seven years.

"Nick looks after Lonnie as if he was looking after his kid brother," Braxton's father said. "Lonnie has had the assistance of so many to make this happen. It's the community that helped make him an Olympian."

Though there were too many helpers to list, Braxton II said he was especially thankful to Anne Santoro of East Lyme, who has been picking up Braxton every Monday, while his parents are working, and taking him to practice, and to Lyme Shores Tennis & Conditioning Center tennis pro Andre Danford.

Braxton lives a full life on and off the tennis court, working at Puffin's restaurant in Groton, taking classes at New London Adult Education, bowling at the Coast Guard Academy two times a month and attending monthly dances at the East Lyme Senior Center. He also goes to dinner and movie nights with friends from Camp Harkness.

"He always looks at himself as having abilities," his father said. "He's just a regular everyday person."

k.florin@theday.com

 

 

 

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