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Gymnast's Long on Passion for Sport

For Andy Ullom, a Special Olympics artistic gymnast from Fayetteville, the biggest challenge may not be doing tricks on the rings, but simply grabbing them.

At 4’2”, the 10-year-old Ullom was one of the shortest competitors at Friday’s gymnastic competition. When Ullom prepared to tackle the rings, his coach had to stack four mats together so he could raise Ullom high enough to hold on to the rings.

Despite that little obstacle, Ullom said the rings are his favorite event.

“I like to pull on them,” he said. “It’s fun.”

The boy has been doing gymnastics since he was 6 and has competed since age 8, the youngest age possible for a Special Olympics athlete. Since he got involved in the sport through programs at his elementary school, Andy has won gold, silver and bronze medals at local and state-level competitions.

“His sister likes to make fun of him,” his mother, Patricia, said. “This is something he can do that she can’t. It helps his self-esteem a lot.

“In North Carolina, they have a really good program introducing the kids to all activities. They have something all year long for the kids. In the beginning of the year, we get tons and tons of forms saying he’s going here, he’s going there. He’s always going somewhere.”

The support for Special Olympics athletes in Fayetteville doesn’t just stop there. Before its three athletes left for the games, the city held a dinner for them and presented them with medals. When the Ulloms’ car broke down the day before the Special Olympics began, a local car dealer arranged a vehicle for Andy’s mother to drive to the competition.

His mother has been there every day, driving from Spring Lake to the Triangle each morning with Andy’s aunt, Galeana Blevins, and his older sister, Monica.

“We’re his rooting section,” she said. “We drive down from Fayetteville every day. It’s dark when we leave, and it’s dark when we get home. The only time he’s ever left home is two days for competition. When they don’t compete, he’s got to sit here by himself. So we come down and spend time with him so he won’t feel like he’s alone.”

Away from the mat, his life is that of a typical 10 year old. He fights constantly with his sister, who is 11 months older. He also gets an attitude in training sometimes and refuses to practice more, his mother said.

“Sometimes they try to motivate him, make him mad and get him to practice more,” she said. “But it doesn’t work. We have to come up with a bribe.”

Other growing pains have also affected his performance. Having grown six sizes in six months, he has to deal with a constantly changing body.

“The problem is, he’s put on a lot of weight,” his mother said. “He went from size six to size 12 in six months. All of the sudden he has all this extra weight and he doesn’t know how to work it yet. It’s going to take him a little practice to get back up to where he needs to go.

“He’s got a little booty on him now. He used to have a flat butt and no tummy. Now, I’m like, ‘Boy, you need to get that belly off.’ ”

The mother said although her son is shy, he has been reaching out to other athletes at the Special Olympics. The soccer team that he is staying with, for instance, has adopted him as its unofficial mascot. His family has been reaching out, too, collecting 75 trading pins for him.

And if his experience at the World Summer Games hasn’t been pleasant enough, Ullom has another reason to stay away from home -- his sister.

“They have a tendency to horse around,” his mother said. “She has fingernails and she claws him. She told him, ‘When you get back, you’re getting it.’ ”