Towne Salute: Michael Heup of Special Olympics Maryland
Jun 20, 2017 10:11AM ● Published by Nicole Gould
While no athlete is the same, they all have a few things in common; determination, dedication, and desire. Michael Heup, 36, applied all three of these characteristics and achieved the ultimate reward, becoming a world-class athlete and spokesman for Special Olympics Maryland (SOM).
This Davidsonville native began his journey with SOM in 2001 after a friend invited him to volunteer at a track practice. It wasn’t long until Heup was participating in basketball, bowling, cycling, floor hockey, powerlifting, soccer, swimming, track and field, tennis, and snowshoe.
“Before Special Olympics, I didn’t have any friends or go to any social activities,” Heup admits. “Now, I’m doing a whole bunch of activities.”
When it comes to sports, some athletes possess a competitive nature that can be over the top. But not Heup. His constant display of sportsmanship is something to be admired by many.
“I enjoy the people that I meet,” Heup says. “I make a lot of friends with people on other teams. I would cheer my team on and then when I see another team, I would go over and cheer them on. That’s what teams do. They cheer and support other teams.”
Heup’s sportsmanship was clearly evident at the 2016 Winter Games at Whitetail when he offered up his snowshoes to a fellow competitor. David Godoy was competing in the snowshoe event as part of the Special Olympics Montgomery County (SOMO) Program, but was disappointed with his results for the 100m and 200m races.
“I was watching him and the shoes he had really didn’t give him enough room to try and go as fast as he can,” Michael admits. “I wanted to see how good he could really do with mine.”
Knowing he still had the 400m race, Heup, without hesitation, offered up his snowshoes for Godoy to compete in with a guarantee he would be faster. And indeed, he was. Godoy ran nine seconds faster than his time trial while using Heup’s shoes.
“I was going crazy cheering for him,” Heup explains. “He did really good.”
Throughout high school, Heup was told that he would never read well, wouldn’t be able to put his thoughts together, and have trouble communicating with others. Surprising not only himself, but his mother as well, Heup graduated from the Beginner Global Messenger series, which helps teach SOM athletes how to write and deliver a speech.
Since his graduation, Heup has delivered a plethora of speeches all across Maryland, Louisiana, Florida, and the Bahamas, at conferences to help create awareness as part of the Special Olympics Maryland Law Enforcement Torch Run Athlete Liaison.
“The challenges they’ve given him have definitely improved his confidence,” Roxanne Heup, Michael’s mom, explains. It’s amazing what they’ve done for him. I was flabbergasted when he gave his first speech and how comfortable he was.”
While balancing his time between sporting events, international conferences, and working at Giant, Heup has also dedicated himself to being a Super Plunger at the Polar Bear Plunge. A Super Plunger is someone who plunges into the Chesapeake Bay once every hour for 24 hours. Each year, Heup is required to raise $10,000 in order to be called a Super Plunger. Each year, he exceeds expectations.
While most super plungers take their 24 dips into the Bay, Heup goes beyond the protocol and participates in the Law Enforcement plunge and the specialty plunges throughout the evening.
As if that wasn’t enough, while Heup is not competing, practicing, plunging, or traveling for a conference, you can find him offering his services as a volunteer for a variety of fundraisers.
Covering over 2,000 miles and traveling across nine provinces in Austria, Heup spent two weeks in March raising awareness for Special Olympics during the Special Olympics World Winter Games as an Athlete Ambassador for the Final Leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Before setting out to participate in this incredible opportunity, Heup set a personal goal to become the number one fundraiser in the world. With great determination, Heup achieved that goal and raised $15,720 for SOM.
According to Heup, nothing is impossible.
“I feel very proud of what I’m doing,” Heup says. “Special Olympics Maryland changed my life after I graduated high school because it helped me make more friends than I could ever imagine.”
For more information on Special Olympics Maryland, visit Somd.org.