THERE ISN'T A CLOUD in the sky as the summery August sun beats down on a handful of BMX bikes lined up near the crowd barricades. One of these bikes is soon to be Noah Reedy's. He and several other Special Olympics athletes wait alongside pro riders for the first-ever Unified BMX event to begin at the X Games in Minneapolis. "I was nervous at first," 37-year-old Reedy says with excitement in his voice.
Spectators gather around to see what is going on. Voices rise from the crowd, asking about Special Olympics and its involvement with the X Games. After five years in the winter X Games, the Special Olympics Unified division, a division in which pros pair up with athletes with intellectual disabilities, is debuting at the summer games.
Reedy and his Unified partner, pro rider Brandon Loupos, meet at the starting line. One is experiencing a new feeling of nerves, as it is his first time on a BMX bike; the other is confident, seasoned and used to competition jitters. Loupos knows what it's like to compete in front of a crowd. He knows the surge of adrenaline that goes with it. Because of that, as the two talk at the starting line, Loupos' calm demeanor helps ease Reedy.
When the announcer says, "go!" Reedy takes off -- leaving Loupos in the rearview. The course consists of two whoops, and Reedy rolls over them easily and crosses the finish line. They high-five and hug each other: A friendship has formed.
"Noah's so fast on a bike. It's ridiculous," says Loupos, an X Games gold medalist. "The guy called his name, and Noah took off like a cannon, and I wasn't expecting it. I had to catch up to him and was at least six seconds behind him."
This was a rare moment in Reedy's life that didn't concern his health or what surgery he has scheduled next -- he has had 13 so far. It was a moment he still cherishes.
AS A NEWBORN in the Philippines, Reedy's future was uncertain. A stranger found him abandoned and took him to a local shelter. Reedy couldn't open his eyes, his nose was malformed, and he had a cleft lip. The diagnosis was congenital meningocele and encephalocele, a rare condition that causes protruding sacs at the spine and the brain. Reedy needed a full skull reconstruction, and there was a doctor in St. Paul, Minnesota, who could perform the surgery. Arrangements were made, and a staff member from the shelter traveled with him to the U.S.
The surgery was risky, but Reedy would've died without trying it.
With his move to Minnesota and the surgery a success, Reedy was given a fresh start, made possible by a new family. "My parents were foster parents at the time, and a social worker here in Minnesota made the connection," said Barbara Schultz, one of Reedy's sisters.
The Reedy family, which includes seven biological children and five adopted children, eventually adopted Noah.
There were days when the family would leave the house, and people would stare or make judgments, but Reedy's older sister, Marcy Anagnostou, said her family accepted Noah. His brain never developed past the ability of an 8-year-old. "When Noah came into our family, he was in rough shape medically, but he was always a spunky and happy kid," Anagnostou said.
Reedy's mother, LaVonne Reedy, says he is still making other people happy. If he makes a mistake, he tries to correct it. In a world with so much negativity, Noah Reedy reminds himself that it always gets better. His enduring optimism and positivity are what make him a prosperous competitor in Special Olympics.
Reedy attended the first Special Olympics USA Games in 2006 in Ames, Iowa. He earned gold, silver and bronze medals in track and field. But when the opportunity came to apply for the X Games BMX event, he was apprehensive. He had ridden on the local trails with his nephew but never on anything like a course with whoops.
"We wanted to keep [the X Games] local to Special Olympics Minnesota athletes," said Chris Bence, the director of Corporate Alliances at Special Olympics. "If it works, our goal is to take [the Unified event] nationally and internationally."
THIS WINTER, REEDY is on the ice playing for the Minnesota Wild special hockey team, a team that is not associated with Special Olympics but represents athletes with intellectual disabilities.
In addition to his various athletic commitments, Reedy works as a mentor for preschoolers and in maintenance at the Community of Peace Academy in St. Paul. He also volunteers at the Ramsey County Care Center, where he plays games, cleans glasses and takes people for walks.
The children at the preschool call him "Mr. Noah." When engaging with them, Reedy communicates the importance of school and supports children who are being bullied. He serves as a group leader and helps with planning, organizing and keeping up the classroom. At times, while the kids are napping, Reedy might notice a student without a blanket. He then takes a trip to the thrift store to get one. He has an effect so strong that as the kids grow older and move on, they remember to give him a shout-out in the hallway.
"[I like] being with a bunch of kids that enjoy having somebody that hangs out with them, and I can teach them what's a good thing and what's a bad thing," he said.
Reedy lives in a group home and surrounds himself with things he loves to do. He rides horses, skates, plays the ukulele, paints and takes photographs -- a hobby he was able to enjoy while on a recent canoe trip.
"My parents have centered their lives over the course of his life on encouraging Noah to be all he can be and on giving him opportunities to try anything," Schultz said.
Reedy continues to pursue those opportunities. Now he can add BMX to his list of achievements.
RJ Nealon is a recent University of Alabama graduate, a Special Olympics gold medalist and a Unified basketball state champion. The Maryland native covered sports extensively as a journalism major at Alabama. See his work on his blog NealonSports.