No slowing down for Special Olympian


POSTED: Monday, May 04, 2009

Robert Yuge plans to play softball until his legs “;give up.”;

And that shouldn't be for a few more years, says Yuge, who celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday on a Hawaii Kai baseball diamond.

More than a dozen teammates and volunteers helped Yuge party with cake and gifts of chocolates and T-shirts.

He is the oldest member on his team, which is preparing for the Special Olympics state softball championship later this month. He is also the oldest Special Olympian currently competing in Hawaii, said President Nancy Bottelo.

Special Olympics provides a chance for people with intellectual disabilities to find personal growth by competing in sporting events with those who have similar abilities. Yuge is one of 22 members on the Rainbows, which also plays bocce and basketball during other seasons.

“;He can hit,”; said team member Henry Benedicto, 53. “;He has a good attitude and he's a very hard-working player.”;

Yuge, who has been on the team for 17 years, plays third base and wears the number 5.

“;I never seen somebody 80 years old that can play like Robert,”; Benedicto said.

After practice, Yuge walked to the bus stop across the street and boarded a bus back to his Kailua apartment—No. 202.

He can't remember the name of his building, but he carries his phone number on a piece of folded notebook paper placed in a side pocket of his fanny pack.

Born in Honolulu, Yuge started working in pineapple fields on Lanai at 15. About eight years ago he retired from his custodial job.

Yuge discovered an interest in sports through his girlfriend Wanda Hinchey in 1992. She got him into bowling, but that ended when the bowling alley closed several years ago, he said. Hinchey also turned Yuge on to softball.

“;Once I learn from the coaches how to play, I like it,”; he said. “;Before, I never like sports. Little by little, I begin to like it.”;

In the winter, Yuge plays bocce with the Special Olympics. When not playing sports, he takes the bus to Restaurant Row on weekdays and plays cards alone.

“;I like watching Kahuku football,”; he said. “;It's my team.”;

Two years ago on the Fourth of July, Hinchey, his girlfriend of 22 years, died.

“;I was hurt inside,”; he said. He found comfort in his team.

Yuge said if he didn't have the team, he would be “;lonely”; and “;out of place.”;

“;I get along with these guys,”; he said. “;I stay with them so long they like family. They make me happy. I'm just like grandfather to them.”;