Delran firefighter Armani Marino achieved his biggest goal this year by competing in the Special Olympics and winning a gold medal.
Now in his fourth year as a junior member of the fire department, Marino also participates in soccer, track, floor hockey and bowling. He tried out for all four sports at the Olympics but was given the option to play just one. Marino chose soccer.
This year’s Special Olympics was held in June at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. The road there took a lot of effort and patience.
“The athletes compete in little seasons, and each season has a competition,” said Armani’s mother, Robin. “Over four years, the Special Olympics keeps scores and records. The top 500 kids in the state are brought over to compete.”
During the regular season, athletes like Marino have tryouts and practice games to prepare for the Special Olympics. They meet with other teams in the county and play against them to see who excels at each sport.
“There were 13 kids in the state of New Jersey for soccer, and Armani was one of the 13 who were picked,” Robin said.
After every season, there is a championship that precedes acceptance into the summer or winter Olympic games.
“They will usually have it at TCNJ or another place. This year, because of COVID, the championship was held at five different facilities,” Robin Marino explained.
Coaches have watched the young adults play their respective sports through the years. They are matched with athletes who would be a good fit, as long as they are still open to competing. Athletes and coaches meet once a month, then once a week as they get closer to the Special Olympics.
Marino was a part of the New Jersey team, whose other members also won a gold medal for soccer. The team went undefeated in five games, beating other states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington and two teams in Texas.
Robin said her son was “all smiles” when he got his medal.
“I was proud to see Armani win,” she said. “He has come a long way.”
Robin credited the Special Olympics organization for teaching young adults lessons that go beyond sports.
“The Special Olympics helps by giving mobility to kids, and allowing them to socialize and be active,” she noted. “It also motivates kids to get involved and keep their spirits up.”
Winners of medals in the U.S. games are eligible for the world games in Germany next year, and Marino and his family are waiting to see if he gets picked to compete there. Meanwhile, the youth had his own advice for athletes who want to compete in the Special Olympics one day.
“Have fun!” he said. “It’s enjoyable and it’s a good time. Don’t push yourself too hard.”