RICHLAND -- Olympian Mark O'Brien, a Richland cyclist, came home a winner at this summer's World Special Olympics, held in Athens, Greece.
He didn't win the gold medal like he hoped, but he had no complaints about the bronze medal he won in cycling for the U.S. team last month.
"Oh sure, I wanted the gold medal, but I'm just as happy with what I got," he said.
This was O'Brien's first trip to Europe, and though the experience was exciting, he had his share of challenging moments during the eight-day event.
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"(The team) had to take a ferry from the island of Rhodes to Athens and it took 17 hours," he said. "We had to sleep on chairs or the floors because there were only four (sleeping cabins on the ferry). We all took turns sleeping on those beds, but we could only sleep for an hour before we had to give it up for the next person."
Needless to say, O'Brien wasn't as well rested as he should have been for the big 5K and 10K races he was scheduled to ride.
"I certainly wasn't myself for the first race the next day after the ferry ride," he said. "I placed sixth that day."
The next race wasn't much better because he had trouble with the chain on his Connandle 27-speed bike that required a mechanic to fix. To make matters worse, he couldn't find anyone available at the event who spoke English to help him adjust the chain, which hindered his performance in the second race.
But O'Brien isn't the kind of guy who gives up easily.
By the 15K race, he got his groove back and went on to win third place.
At one point in that race, another racer struck the back wheel of his bike, which caused his bike to wobble.
"But I didn't go down," he said with snicker. "I know that's because God was with me that day."
His parents, Roseanne and Nelson O'Brien, also had a few troubling moments during their visit to Greece to watch their son compete.
"There was all sorts of protesting going on by the people of Greece that I believe had something to do with a government issue," his mother said.
It got a little scary for the older couple because their hotel was near the heart of the unrest and police were using tear gas on the protesters, Roseanne O'Brien said.
At one point, when the couple exited the Athens subway, police were using tear gas on the protesters.
"Now that was disturbing," Roseanne O'Brien said. "We got out of there quickly."
The World Special Olympics drew thousands of athletes from 158 countries who competed in 26 sporting events. Most of the competitions were held in the mornings because by noon the heat and humidity in the Mediterranean city made it too uncomfortable for athletes to compete, she added.
By the time Mark made it back to U.S. soil, he was exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time, he said.
"I was sure glad to be back in the United States," he said. "When we got to the Seattle airport there were a bunch of (media types) wanting to interview us all. I was tired and wanted to get home but I gave them a few comments."
This is the third bronze medal Mark has won at the World Special Olympics. His first was in 1989 when he won a bronze for downhill skiing, which was held in Nevada. He also won the bronze in cycling in 1999, when the world competition was held in North Carolina.
So what's next for this diehard Special Olympian?
"I'm training for the winter Special Olympics," he said. "They'll be in 2013 though the location hasn't been announced yet."