OSHKOSH — The Special Olympics kicked off Friday night at UW-Oshkosh and the basketball skills competition was the first event of the weekend.
For one athlete, this weekend was about more than dribbling a ball, it was about inspiring others, friendship and much much more.
“I have cerebral palsy, but I don’t let it stop me from doing anything,” said athlete Edward Kastern.
Kastern is in his 36th year competing in the Special Olympics.
“He just continues to prove people wrong and so if anybody has been told they can’t do something, hangout with (Kastern) and you’re going to see a different opportunity present itself,” said his friend Jon Ellman.
He won his first gold medal at the age 15, which was quite the experience for him. 30 years later, it has inspired him to go out and have the confidence to accomplish many goals. He’s one of the few athletes who competes in a wheel chair.
“I graduated from college, I have two jobs, I work for the Special Olympics — plus I work for UW-Madison where I work for COVID research and different research for people with disabilities,” Kastern said. “The Special Olympics teaches you about teamwork, but also teaches you that you can do whatever you want despite your disability.”
But this year, the event was a little different for him.
“Tonight is all about honoring my dad,” he said.
On April 1st, two weeks before the games were set to begin, his father William Kastern passed away at the age of 78.
“When I look up at the sky, I’ll be thinking about him,” Kastern said. “He came to almost every (Special Olympics) games.”
Before he competed on Friday night, Kastern said he hoped to have a night like Brett Favre did against the Raiders in 2003 after his father passed away.
“Despite my disability I know he was always proud,” he said. “He always wanted me to walk by myself, but in heaven I will walk with him one day and I won’t have to take this chair with me.”
It was tough for Kastern to compete with the loss of his father on his mind, but he was surrounded by his second family.
“Special Olympics is like my family and when I’m with my family, when I’m with support – that’s when I feel the most happiest,” he said.
Ellman, the head coach of the UW-Oshkosh Volleyball team has known Edward for about 10 years.
“We started, our first interaction was in grad school together and we brought him in to talk to a high school team I was coaching and the first thing he did was walk in with gold medals draped around his neck and he said, “If I can do this, you guys can accomplish your goals.” I’ve never been with him in an environment like this, so it’s really nice to be here today.”
The two have developed a close bond. Ellman was there to show support for his friend, when he needed the most..
“It’s cool to have that support because everybody needs that friendship and when I’m down or need a pep talk, he’ll get me right before I compete,” said Kastern. “He’s always been there for me, or when I’m struggling he’s already been there.”
Ellman has been a role for Kastern, but Edward has also inspired his dear friend.
“I think our greatest gift on this planet is somehow to find a way to be authentic and be ourselves and when you interact with Ed, you see that. You just see Ed shining through and anybody with insecurities and a lack of confidence and we all have it – when you hang out with this kid for, well he’s not a kid anymore, he’s an old man, for any stretch of time I think it helps you get in touch with who you really are and that’s inspiring,” said Ellman.
Kastern set many personal bests on Friday night and he said he knew before the games even began that his father was smiling down.