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Waimea Special Olympian Recognized as Male Athlete of the Year

December 13, 2020, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated December 12, 6:21 PM
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Sgt. Jason Grouns met up with Waimea Patrol Officer Kui Dela Cruz to present the award to Gilbert Acosta. (Courtesy: HPD)

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced nearly all meetings, classrooms and sporting events to go virtual, this includes the Special Olympics.

Throughout the year, athletes have been competing in games virtually around the state. One of those athletes was 30-year-old Gilbert Acosta of Waimea, who was recognized by Special Olympics Hawai‘i (SOHI) as Male Athlete of the Year earlier this month.

After receiving news of Acosta’s statewide recognition, Hawai‘i Police Department’s Sgt. Jason Grouns, the Inter-Island liaison for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, didn’t hesitate to drive from Hilo on his personal time to deliver the award in person.

“Gilbert came running out,” Grouns explained the day he delivered the award. “Immediately he started with the high fives and calling everyone ‘my friend.'”

During SOHI’s 2020 games, Acosta earned first place in jumping jacks with 33 in 30 seconds; first in side-to-side hops with 37 in 30 seconds and third place in pushups with 15 in 30 seconds.

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Throughout the year, SOHI provided an at-home fitness program for athletes and started weekly Zoom workouts and a Friday night dance. SOHI officials say, Acosta, with an intellectual disability, was able to manage his Zoom schedule and computer access independently.

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“Gilbert excelled in these Virtual Games,” officials stated. “Due in large part to his dedication and consistency of participating in multiple workouts each week in addition to his Zoom practices with Honoka‘a Hawks.”

Acosta said he was happy and excited when Grouns came to his to deliver his award.

“I’ll continue to compete,” Acosta told Big Island Now. “I’m a good athlete.”

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Grouns said officers have delivered medals to winners from games in August and November.

“I couldn’t believe how excited the athletes were when we’d show up,” Grouns said.

While the police department has been a longtime supporter of the games, Grouns said the personal delivery of awards shows the athletes the department is still here for them and cares.

“The whole concept behind Special Olympics is inclusion and acceptance,” Grouns said, adding not being able to meet physically for events has been hard.

“To see them come running out, that feels pretty awesome,” Grouns said as he reflected on the award deliveries.

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