Special Olympics Florida

Shelby Forester is in a league of his own

By:  Troy Herring Sports Editor via West Orange Times & Observer

A Special Olympics athlete and an Ocoee resident, Forester took to the softball diamond as he and thousands of others participated in the Special Olympics Florida State Fall Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Out on the softball diamond is where Shelby Forester thrives, and this day was no exception.  As he looked toward the scoreboard in right field, he took his place in the batter’s box and dipped into his stance.  The first couple of pitches sailed below his knees for balls, but this next pitch was his.

With the ball approaching in what feels like slow motion, Forester lowered his hands and drove the ball deep into the outfield — hightailing it to second.  The next batter brought him in, and the Seminole softball team picked up the big victory during the Special Olympics Florida State Fall Classic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

“I love what I do, and I’ve been doing it almost all my life — almost for 10 seasons,” Forester said. “Out here, it’s a different ballgame. I want to win my medal, I want to have fun with all my coaches, and then I want to win for my beautiful family. But I’m honoring two of my best friends who passed away last year. That’s the reason I’m out here enjoying myself.”

To say Forester was enjoying himself would be a gross understatement. When he wasn’t at bat, he was jumping and hollering — rooting on his friends and pushing them to give their best efforts. Despite Seminole being up by more than 10 runs, Forester’s excitement made it feel like the World Series. 

While Forester helped lead his team to that win on Friday, Nov. 9, his mother, Debbie, and brother, Sean, were on hand to cheer him on from under the shade of a tree that sat right next to the field.  For Debbie, seeing her son enjoying his sport means the world to her — especially given the difficulty he had a few years back.

“He used to play baseball when he was younger, but it was only with the Miracle League, and it was only a couple of little innings,” she said. “He had a rare disease and then he needed a liver transplant — so he couldn’t be out in the heat and sweat. He had the transplant, and Orange County didn’t have a team. I contacted them and they told me about Seminole County — and he loves the game so much that I said, ‘OK,’ it’s quite a distance from our house, but I go there for him to play every weekend. He loves it.”

Forester had been dealing with a urea cycle disorder — a metabolic disorder that saw his body convert food into protein — that caused brain damage. 

So in 2007, doctors approached Debbie about a liver transplant. They said the procedure had shown promising signs in helping people dealing with urea cycle disorder. They also told her it would help him live a longer life.

“He’s not had one problem (since),” Debbie said. “I had never heard of it — it was rare — but they finally figured it out, and he’s doing great.”

Although it was a scary time for the family, there was something that came out of Forester’s disorder that plays a big role in his life now — playing and watching sports.

Forester loves to talk about his favorite baseball player —Johnny Damon — and especially his playing time on the New York Yankees.

But the real outward expression of love for sports comes when he is out on the field or on the court. Along with softball, Forester plays a number of other sports, including basketball, bowling, track and swimming. And he’s competed in all of them at the state and national levels for Special Olympics.

As a multi-medal winning athlete at different levels, as well as a member of the Renegades — a West Orange-based adult five-on-five basketball team — there has to be a secret to his game. 

For Forester, it all starts on the individual level.

“I put a lot of work in the weight room, and I work out on my days off every Monday,” Forester said. “My body is filled with lots of water and lots of Gatorade, and then to that, I started my healthy diet for lunch and dinner, so that’s how I prepare my body.”

Above all, Forester said spending time with his friends and teammates is the real gift.

They give him the chance to better himself as a player — and vice-versa.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Forester said. “I like the coaches, I like the players, and I like everybody out here. They’re always good to me.”