GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY – Gable Wilkins returned from the USA Special Olympics in Florida with a gold medal for his play on Washington state’s championship volleyball team. He and his teammates went undefeated in six matches.  	     – Photo by Bill Reynolds
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY – Gable Wilkins returned from the USA Special Olympics in Florida with a gold medal for his play on Washington state’s championship volleyball team. He and his teammates went undefeated in six matches. – Photo by Bill Reynolds

Just about everyone in town knows Gable Wilkins.

Now folks all around the country do, too.

The 36-year-old La Conner resident, whom his friends insist has a heart of gold, can also wear that precious metal on his chest after having helped Team Washington capture top honors in volleyball at the nationally televised 2022 USA Special Olympics in Orlando, Florida earlier this month.

“It was totally fun,” Wilkins said of the experience.

Wilkins, recognized throughout La Conner for his trademark smile and upbeat personality, delivered the match point winning set to hitter Kevin Geoghegan that won gold for Team Washington in the title round.

Wilkins returned home a hero.

“When I walked into the Pub the other night,” he said, “everybody clapped.” 

Wilkins and his teammates swept six straight matches at the Special Olympics volleyball tournament, defeating Team Pennsylvania.
Wilkins, whose primary sport is basketball, was recruited by coach Randy Geoghegan to the Team Washington volleyball roster, comprised mostly of players from Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties. 

“They worked really hard,” said Wilkins’ sister, Marlo Frank, who with her husband, Gary, owns Nasty Jack’s Antiques at First and Morris streets. “They practiced two times a week for seven months at L.U. (Lucille Umbarger Elementary School) in Burlington.”

While in Orlando, Wilkins and his teammates participated in the widely viewed Special Olympics Opening Ceremonies, were treated to rides at Disney World, visited the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, played favorite arcade video games and received best wishes from celebrities such as 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and country music singer-songwriter Luke Combs.

Wilkins also had a surprise meeting after landing in Florida. It was with La Conner’s Mike Ritchie, an Alaska Airlines pilot, who was in the cockpit for cross-country flight.

The two recognized each other immediately. Wilkins has watched Ritchie’s son, Conner, play youth league sports here.

“He walked out, and I couldn’t believe it,” recalled Wilkins. “Conner’s dad was our pilot. He said to me: ‘What are you doing here?’”

It wasn’t long before Ritchie and much of the nation found out.

“The goal was first to make sure the guys had fun,” coach Geoghegan posted on social media afterward. “And secondly, as a bonus, to bring back the gold.”

“I felt like a movie actor,” Wilkins said of having received applause at the Pub.