“I persevered, and I won,” said Special Olympics Gold Medalist Mark Uyeda from Chula Vista, speaking about his gold medal win at the 2022 Special Olympic USA Games in Orlando, Florida in June. Athletes compete in 19 different Sports, with more than 4,000 athletes from across the U.S., 1,500 coaches, and 125,000 fans.
The Special Olympics uses the power and joy of sport to shift the focus on what athletes can do rather than what athletes cannot do. Last year they were held in Orlando, Florida, and Mark Uyeda was the only athlete from San Diego County who attended, earning a gold medal in the 200-freestyle, and a bronze medal in the 50-yard freestyle competitions.
Mark was raised in Chula Vista by Martha and Scott Uyeda, along with his sister Molly. Mark received his diagnosis of autism at five years old and has been involved with the Special Olympics since he was 15. He was excited when Rams tight end Tyler Higbee called his name to represent San Diego and Southern California. Mark liked being a part of the team and traveling to Florida. Another highlight of his trip representing San Diego was meeting Chip and Dale at Disney World.
His family is incredibly proud of him and is among his biggest fans. His father, Scott is an assistant coach for the Southern California contingent, and when asked about Mark’s 200 freestyle win, Scott Uyeda said he “has never been so nervous before.”
Mark Uyeda turned 33 on March 4, and surprisingly his gold medal, he had never swam the 200-yard freestyle before. His mother, Martha Uyeda said his forte is the 100-yard freestyle, but during the games, he had trouble with his goggles, and even though he did not win it, he finished the race.
Martha Uyeda said the Special Olympics have been a wonderful thing for Mark to participate in.
“He loves the camaraderie, he actually is able to talk to the other kids, but before participating, getting him to talk to others was like pulling teeth,” she said.
His mother said Mark almost drowned at 15 months old swimming with a Mommy and Me group at Eastlake Dolphin Beach, so after that, she put him into swimming lessons, adding since he is a Pisces, a water sign, he took to it like a fish.
“Once he is in, it is hard to get him out of the water,” she said. “Five more minutes turns into an hour.”
Mark Uyeda said he loves swimming because it is a lot of “fun,” and he loves practicing and competing.
She said that Mark also loves bowling, exercise. He takes physical education and swimming classes at Southwestern College and walks to and from the college. He also participates in Sports for Exceptional Athletes, which she said gives him his sports fix all-year round. He is a member of the ABLE Club at SWC. He is also a big fan of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.”
“It gives him a way to give back,” she said. “They spread the word on campus that there are college students who are different from them. He loves to be part of a group.”
Mark Uyeda is training for the next U.S.A Games that will take place in Minneapolis in 2026. He also hopes to compete internationally at the Special Olympics International Games.