COLUMBIA — Nearly three minutes after the winner had touched the wall in the final heat of the men’s 50-meter backstroke at the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games on Saturday, the competitors from the heat gathered to cheer Eddie Rozier’s final strokes.
The crowd and other competitors at the MU Student Recreation Complex also cheered as Rozier touched the wall, and some used sign language to cheer Rozier, who is deaf.
Rozier finished far behind his fellow swimmers because he has cerebral palsy and has limited use of his legs. He swims with just his arms. When not swimming, he uses a wheelchair.
From age 18 to 48, Rozier had more use of his legs.
“We had some muscle transplants done on his legs when he was 18, and it was the first time he walked,” said Carol Rozier, Eddie’s sister.
Before the surgery, Carol Rozier said that Rozier used a wheelchair. For nearly 30 years after his surgery, he was able to walk with the assistance of a walker and leg braces. Now 53 years old, the muscles that were transplanted are beginning to deteriorate, and he uses a wheelchair full time.
When Rozier was 7, his family moved him to Woodhaven in Columbia, a not-for-profit group that houses and provides services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“He was the very first physically disabled person that they took,” said Sheri Tinsley, a former employee at Woodhaven who helped care for Rozier and still helps him and others whom she worked with during her time at the home.
Rozier swam in the 50-meter backstroke, the 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter medley relay on Saturday.
Through an interpreter, Rozier said his favorite part of competing at the Special Olympics is the medals he wins and the people he meets.
“This is probably going to be his last year swimming,” Tinsley said. “His right leg doesn’t fully flex any more, and he has some nerve issues that set in when he gets cold and gets in the water.”
Tinsley and Carol Rozier estimate that Rozier has swum at the Special Olympics for nearly 30 years. Although he probably won’t compete in the pool next year, Tinsley said, Rozier will participate in his second favorite sport: bowling.