News Article Details

‘I can do it’

Idaho State Journal - 3/19/2017

The Special Olympics athlete’s oath is significant beyond words for Jeanette Boyle.

It reads, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Boyle — sitting in front of the 110 medals and 127 ribbons she’s won over the course of 48 consecutive yearly Special Olympics competitions — softly cries as she thinks about that oath and how it’s empowered her through most of her life.

“It means that I accomplished a lot,” she says as tears of pride swell in her eyes. “It means a lot to me.”

“You were brave in the attempt,” says her cousin, Luana Lish.

“And you won!” chimes in someone else. At that, an infectious smile spreads across Boyle’s face and a warm, hearty laugh leaves her mouth.

That span of just a handful of seconds captures Boyle’s charming personality: humble, tender and contemplative, yet bubbly, cheerful and enthusiastic.

Boyle, 63, lives in Boise, but grew up in Victor in East Idaho before moving to the Treasure Valley when she was 13. A year later in 1968, the Special Olympics began in Idaho for the first time, and she shook the hand of Eunice Shriver, who introduced the games to the Gem State.

That began a long athletic career for Boyle as a Special Olympian. She has 38 gold medals, 44 silver medals and 28 bronze medals, to go along with 46 first-place ribbons, 44 second-place ribbons, 20 third-place ribbons, 13 fourth-place ribbons and four fifth-place ribbons.

But before Boyle won a single award, she first had to conquer her fear of swimming — an event in which Boyle is now the oldest Special Olympian in Idaho.

The Red Cross swimming lessons took place at a motel in Victor. When it came time for Boyle to be tested, she couldn’t jump into the pool.

“I was petrified of the water,” she said. “And Momma pushed me in.”

That’s all it took for that fear to be lifted and a love of swimming to take its place.

When Boyle first began competing in the Special Olympics, she participated in the softball throw, bowling, cross country skiing and swimming.

For the next 19 years, Boyle competed in the Special Olympics in Idaho. Then, in 1987, she was chosen to represent the United States in the International Summer Special Olympics at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Over 60 countries were represented, and Arnold Schwarzenegger — fresh off the premiere of his most recent blockbuster, “Predator” — was the guest speaker at the games’ opening ceremonies.

Despite her coach, Dane DeGraff, not being able to attend, Boyle won the gold medal in the 4x25 relay, the bronze medal in the 25-meter backstroke and a seventh-place ribbon in the freestyle swim.

After her events, she tried several times to call home to tell her family about her results, but the lines to the phones were too long and she was unable to.

Boyle flew back home thinking no one knew how well she did in South Bend. But when she stepped off the plane in Boise, hundreds of people were waiting. It wasn’t until Boyle saw her name on a banner that she realized the homecoming celebration was for her.

As she skimmed the faces in the crowd, she saw her coach.

“I went over and gave him the biggest hug,” Boyle said as her two medals she won at Notre Dame clinked around her neck. “We both were just hugging each other crying. It was just fantastic. … It was once in a lifetime.”

Over the years, Boyle’s made many friends. One of her friends on her swimming team was Gary Lee, a swimmer who was paralyzed on one side of his body from the waist down. During one particular Special Olympics swimming meet in Pocatello, Lee was struggling to make it to the race’s finish.

“Everybody else was out of the lanes. They’d all finished,” Lish said. “But Gary was still in there. … His coach was right on the sideline and he’s saying, “This way Gary, this way.’ And then that whole gym, all of the competitors, all the Special Olympians, the whole gym was saying, ‘Go Gary. Go Gary.’ … It was the most beautiful, impactful thing.”

On March 29, Boyle will jump in the pool to begin training for her 49th consecutive Special Olympics. The area meet is May 20 in Caldwell, and the state meet is June 9 and 10 in Twin Falls. Boyle is excited to be with her friends and coaches and, of course, hoping to add to her impressive medal count.

But more than medals or ribbons, Boyle is excited to — just like in the 48 previous Special Olympics she’s competed in — prove to herself and to those around her that she is capable of achieving great things.

“I’ve learned that I can do it,” Boyle said. “And seeing all the medals that I earned and the ribbons that I earned…” She pauses as her eyes water again before Lish finishes her thought, saying: “It’s proof.”

Jeanette Boyle, 63, winner of over 200 medals and ribbons during her 48 years as a Special Olympian, is still excited to compete as she enters her 49th year in Special Olympics.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal

Jeanette Boyle, 63, winner of over 200 medals and ribbons during her 48 years as a Special Olympian, is still excited to compete as she enters her 49th year in Special Olympics.

Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal


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