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Special Olympian celebrates 50-year milestone

(l to r) Jack, Ricky, and Polly Pyne (Photo/Jane Keller Gordon)

By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor

Scituate – Thousands of miles from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Scituate-native Ricky Pyne (59) is getting ready for his next gold medal quest. Ricky, who has Down syndrome, has competed in the Special Olympics for the past 50 years.

Taffy Nothnagle has been Ricky’s coach since 1993.

“Soon after Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics, Ricky, who was 9 then, was introduced to the competition by his wonderful special education teacher Fran Jacobs, who recently passed away,” she said. “He is one of the first Special Olympic athletes.”

Ricky has earned medals in track and field, swimming, candlepin bowling, basketball, and other sports. His next event is a bowling tournament on Sunday, March 4 in Kingston, Mass.

He is blessed with a loving family and close-knit community, in part from his participation in the Special Olympics.

The Pyne family moved from Belmont to Scituate when Ricky was two.

Ricky, the youngest of five children, grew up living at home with his father Wally and mother Eleanor, who was his devoted caretaker.

Jack (76), Ricky’s oldest brother, has been his guardian for the past 26 years. Jack and his wife Polly, who have four children and 16 grandchildren, are devoted to Ricky.

“We are more than grateful to take care of Ricky. It’s our moral obligation,” said Polly.

Ricky lived alone with Eleanor after his father’s death in 1990.

“Nine years later, when Eleanor died at the age of 86, Ricky was 41. I don’t who was keeping whom alive at that point. Eleanor lived for Ricky,” Polly said. “She said that she was going to die the day after him. She called him her king.”

One downside of being Eleanor’s king was Ricky’s diet. She fed him constantly, and he was extremely overweight. Together, Polly and Jack changed Ricky’s diet and increased his level of exercise. He lost 125 pounds over the course of a few years.

When Eleanor died, it was a challenge to find a group home for Ricky. Eighteen months later, Ricky moved into one in Scituate through a nonprofit called Road to Responsibility.

His placement resulted from his participation in a 1999 class action suit, Boulet, et al v. Cellucci, filed on behalf of him and four other disabled adults.

“As a result that landmark decision, Massachusetts provided guaranteed residential placements for 2,500 disabled adults,” said Nothnagle.

These days, Ricky keeps busy working part time in a used bookstore operated by Road to Responsibility.

“I love it and I get paid,” he said.

He stays in shape bowling, playing softball in the summer, riding a stationary bicycle, and lifting weights now and then. And, he continues to be an active participant in the Special Olympics.

Unfortunately, Ricky is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, which occurs at a high incidence in the Down syndrome population.

“He’s starting to forget things. We know that he’s well cared for in his group home. That’s where he’ll stay. He is very happy there,” Polly said.

In addition to exercise and work, for the past 17 years, Ricky has been seen at McLean Hospital by Dr. Florence Lai, who has treated Down syndrome patients for over 30 years.

About a year ago, Jack and Polly agreed to enroll Ricky in a worldwide observational study of biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in adults with Down syndrome. The study is led by Dr. Lai, and Dr. H. Diana Rosas at Massachusetts General Hospital. Polly and Jack would like to get the results of PET scans and blood test, but understand that is not the way it works.

“Ricky is older and still verbal, so we know that he can contribute to research. In our own way, we’re doing our bit to help the Down syndrome community. And, we’re so proud that Ricky has reached his 50-year milestone with Special Olympics,” said Polly.

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