GALENA – A Dixon man has carried a torch for sports for a long time.
Tuesday, he carried one for his fellow athletes.
David Goken, 21, anchored the Illinois Special Olympics Winter Games torch relay through downtown Galena. He was the final athlete to carry the Flame of Hope and lit the cauldron to officially start the games, which began Wednesday and wrap up Thursday in Galena.
Goken, who is autistic, competes for Kreider Services of Dixon. He will run in the 100- and 200-meter snowshoe dashes.
The torch lighting is one more mark on a scorecard of achievements that have come Goken’s way during his lifelong love affair with sports.
He played soccer and baseball as a kid, he’s been a manager for Dixon High School football and baseball teams, and he’s been part of Special Olympics for years.
“He loves sports,” his mom Lori said.
When the call from Kreider activities coordinator Lisa Olson came 2 weeks ago, notifying them that Goken was chosen to carry the torch, his reaction was short and sweet – and enthusiastic.
“I’m excited!” he said.
His love of sports was evident Tuesday as Goken made his way through the slushy streets and sidewalks of Galena. Torch in hand, accompanied by a State Police escort and with a huge grin on his face, he ascended the steps to light the cauldron.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him,” Lori said.
Goken also is involved with Special Olympics basketball, and his Kreider Bulldogs will compete March 16-18 in the Special Olympics state tournament in Normal.
Last week, he visited Madison, Wisconsin, to see former Dukes basketball standout Isaiah Roby play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers against the Wisconsin Badgers in a Big Ten basketball game.
“Those two have been friends since they were little,” Lori said.
Goken has been a football manager since he was in eighth grade, and served as manager for the Dixon High School football and baseball teams.
In Dixon’s final home game against Rock Falls during his senior season in 2014, Goken even got to rub shoulder pads with the team. After the game, he suited up and carried a football for a touchdown.
That became a touching moment for the family, and they’re glad Goken’s sports accomplishments can continue.
“Now that he’s older, it gives him the opportunity to compete [more],” Lori said.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Goken added.
Goken is one of three competitors for Kreider.
Jennifer Grygiel will run in the 50- and 100-meter snowshoe dashes, and Jacob Hoak will compete in the slalom and giant slalom ski races.
Lee County Special Education Association has three competitors; Elizabeth Stauter in the 50- and 100-meter snowshoe dashes, Benjamin Huyckin the 50, and Isaiah Madonna in the 100.