Bill Tyau, one of Hawaii's first Special Olympics athletes, celebrates after winning a medal at the 2002 summer competition.

WILLIAM TYAU / 1951-2003

Special Olympics
ambassador inspired hope

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William "Bill" Tyau "touched the hearts of everybody" as the ambassador of Special Olympics, said Nancy Botelho, executive director of Special Olympics Hawaii.

Tyau, who was born with Down syndrome, said in one of his speeches: "When I was young and in school, other students called me lots of names. ... I did not have much to look forward to. I was very discouraged and depressed. My mom found out about S.O., and I got started right away. I started to feel a change inside of me. I felt like I was achieving something in my life."

The inspirational speaker for Special Olympics Hawaii and one of its first athletes died Monday at Straub Hospital after suffering from pneumonia. Tyau, an Aina Haina resident, was 51.

Tyau joined the Special Olympics program at 17 when the organization for the disabled opened here in 1968. In the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games, he won the World Gold Medal for the 100-meter breaststroke, one of the proudest moments of his life, according to Special Olympics spokeswoman Noreen Conlin.

Tyau was the first athlete trained by Special Olympics to be a "global messenger" in 1989.

He became "a shining light" as the result of his inspirational talks about his experiences, Botelho said.

"I never gave a speech after 1989. I just introduced him and he took over. He loved being in front of a crowd ... and was excellent at this," Botelho said.

He joined Toastmasters, an international public speaking club, and earned the Third Level Bronze Award, "quite a feat for a man with mental retardation," Conlin said.

Tyau wrote his own speeches, Conlin added.

He said in a speech: "My coach from Anuenue Sports Club took the time to teach me motivation, discipline and how to take responsibility for my own life. ... I train and compete in basketball, softball, and my favorite sport is swimming. Special Olympics not only gave me the chance to achieve in sports, but it also helped me to make new friends and to follow my dreams."

Botelho said Tyau was also a devoted, active member of Kaimuki Christian Church.

"He found God and loved Jesus and made sure everybody knew it," she said.

He is survived by his mother, Eleanor Tyau; sister, Christine Maguire, of New Zealand; and cousin and guardian, Carlene Wolf.

A celebration of Tyau's life will be held May 10 at Kaimuki Christian Church. The viewing will be from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., with a service at 10:30 a.m.


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