Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
In the water, 35-year old Phillip Spence is something of a perfectionist, mastering every one of his strokes until it is nearly impossible to beat him. Danny Dasis is just as dedicated on the greens racking up over 100 golf medals over his career. The two have become regulars at the State Games Opening Ceremonies, representing the Special Olympics while leading out the teams during the ceremony's parade of athletes. While their faces are familiar to those who frequent the event, few actually know the dominance the two have accomplished while competing both across the nation and internationally in Special Olympics.
“The first time he hit the water, he took to it like a duck,” Phillip's mother Elaine Spence said. “He was about two years old, and we were living out in the country. Down at Basic City there is a big bridge, and my husband was working with cattle. He went back to get his his tools and he heard 'Daddy look I can jump high.' He managed to get to him in time, and the first thing he said after that was 'when do swimming lessons start.'”
The youngest of 10 children, Dasis' emergence into the Special Olympics was not as dramatic. Before earning the first ever gold medal for golf in Special Olympics history, Danny spent his early childhood frequenting local country clubs with his father while soaking up the game.
“In 1994, the State Office called and asked if Danny would play golf in the World Games,” Ethel Dasis said. “My husband used to play golf and he had shown Danny how to play. The more he hit the ball, the better he was.”
The swimming and golf lessons have paid off and then some, as the two athletes, who are both diagnosed with Down Syndrome, have combined for over 100 awards including medals from the World Games in Connecticut, North Carolina and even as far as Ireland.
The games in Dublin, Ireland, in 2003 served as the first time the event was held outside of the United States.
“It was a great experience,” Elaine Spence said. “Phillip really enjoyed that trip, and it was his first time out of the country. We were able to stay with a host family which was also an interesting experience.”
Ethel Dasis said participating in the Special Olympics has provided her and Danny the opportunity to visit places and meet people they would have never dreamed of.
The top of the list for Danny, however, includes a golf tournament in Greystone, Ala. where he not only got to meet his idol former golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez as well as NFL legends Brett Favre and Bart Star.
“We are standing at the top of the hill and Brett Favre turns to me and says, can he play golf,” Ethel Dasis said. “I told him last year, Danny won the first gold medal in Special Olympics. He hands Danny the club and says tee off.”
On top of all the experiences Special Olympics has provided to both Spence and Dasis, perhaps one of the best thing it has given them is friendly competition. The two first met about 10 years ago, as Phillip made the switch from Alabama Special Olympics to Mississippi's. Since then, the two have pushed each other competitively and cheer each other on.
“When they first met, they just hit it off,” Elaine Spence said. “They competed against each other, they go head to head in a lot of their races, and they have just been real good friends since they met.
“They kind of bounce things off each other, and they try to outdo each other. They have a good attitude about it.”
While neither Spence or Dasis are sure if they will compete in the next World Games in Los Angeles, both agree the experiences they have had competing are ones they will cherish forever.
“It has been one of the best things that has happened to either one of us,” Ethel Dasis said. “The things he has done in Special Olympics has really developed him.”