RICHMOND, Va. -- Fond memories of growing up are few and far between for Nathon Horton. The Powhatan County man said he was teased a lot through middle and high school. He often found himself on the outside looking in. His learning disabilities and cognitive challenges drew the attention of bullies.
"If you don’t have nobody when you’re down, you’ve got nothing really,” Horton said.
While friends were hard to come by, Horton found salvation in sports.
“They came into my life when I really needed somebody,” Horton said about his passion for sports which began 30 years ago.
The athlete for the Special Olympics Virginia has now competed in more events than he can count.
“This is a blast. Loving it,” he said. “Fun all the time!”
The 45-year-old athlete found a pack of friends and his purpose.
Over the years, Horton's role has morphed from athlete to mentor.
He leads bowling outings and other activities with his pals Seth, Andrew, and Wade.
“I just like it. More fun. I have a good time and I like bowling.” Wade May said. “It is the best!”
The four musketeers share a bond like brothers.
“He is a very dedicated friend and I’m very proud of it,” Andrew Gayle said.
Their friendship spares other athletes from the ridicule and isolation Horton experienced as a teen and young adult.
“I have fun with my bowling ball. Yeah!” Seth Rogers said. “Nathon’s friendship was very great!”
Tammy Rogers said her son Seth has blossomed under Hortonwing.
“Nathon has a huge heart. He leads with his heart,” Tammy Rogers said. “He works with all of the athletes. Encourages them. Makes them feel safe and protects them.”
The companionship is invaluable.
For Nathon, the feeling is mutual.
“I don’t know if I can go too long without seeing somebody in that group,” he said.
Holly Claytor, with the Special Olympics Virginia, called Nathon’s story inspiring.
“I can’t picture the Special Olympics without Nathan,” Claytor said. “It is just joy and kindness and the things we all need in life.”
Horton embraces his role and relationships within the organization and proves the Special Olympics is more than just competition.
“I’ve got a lot of them. Thirty years A lot of friends,” Horton said. “I’m happy. Happy. Happy. Extremely happy.”
Nathon Horton helping others thrive through friendships and games in the lane of life.
“As long as we’re together we’re having fun," he said.
If you would like to see Nathon Horton and his friends in action you can attend the Special Olympics Virginia Summer Games on June 9 and 10.
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