Life Scout takes second place in surfing at Special Olympics

Photo by Mackenzie Clark for 2022 Special Olympics USA Games

We were thrilled last summer when Isaiah Vargas, at the time a Star Scout, was selected to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Fla.

We’re over the moon to report that Isaiah, now a Life Scout, brought home a silver medal from the Games this summer.

Isaiah, from Troop 210 in Winter Garden, Fla., was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at age 3. He joined Cub Scouts a few years later, and a few years after that, he discovered a love for surfing.

Competing on a giant stage like the Special Olympics didn’t bother him a bit.

“Special Olympics was awesome,” he says. “I had a lot of fun. I was not nervous. I was brave.”

The joy Isaiah gets from surfing is pretty clear to see. Photo by Milea Verock for Special Olympics USA Games 2022

The opportunity of a lifetime

The competition was held at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, a water park located at the Walt Disney Resort.

Isaiah competed in the level 2 surfing division. Level 1 is for athletes who are able to surf on their own with zero assistance. For level 2, athletes get pushed into the wave by their surfing coach but are on their own as they attempt to catch the wave and stand on the board.

Judges score athletes based on how far they ride, how steady they are on the board and how they maneuver once they stand up.

There are multiple heats, each of which consists of anywhere from four to 10 waves an athlete can attempt to ride. Isaiah earned a 11.66 on his final heat, good enough to earn him the Silver Medal.

“I did a good job and I’m going to do my best for next time,” he says.

As soon as the Games concluded, Isaiah was off to summer camp with his Scout troop.

Isaiah’s other favorite thing to do? Scouting, of course. Photo courtesy of the Vargas family

Scouts and sports a winning combination

Isaiah’s parents noticed a dramatic change in Isaiah shortly after his first Cub Scout meeting all those years ago. The combination of Scouting and competitive sports, they say, has been just what their family needed.

“Special Olympics and Scouting provided an opportunity as special-needs parents that we were not anticipating,” says Isaiah’s father, Rolando. “That is, Isaiah becoming self-sufficient and independent with the skills he learned from Scouting, and us — my wife and I — learning to let go.”

An event like the Special Olympics can be challenging for a child with autism. Isaiah says all the activity caused his autism to “work overtime.” But there’s a reason Isaiah’s favorite point of the Scout Law is “brave.”

“It was different and challenging, but I had fun,” he says. “The food was great, and I met new people.”

Isaiah joins other medal-winning Scout Olympians like Ryan Held, Steven Holcomb and Chris Fogt, and David Blair.

Isaiah with one special medal, flanked by proud parents Lisa and Rolando. Photo courtesy of the Vargas family
About Aaron Derr 371 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.