OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – An Olympic hero was honored Monday on Long Island.
Record-breaking Special Olympian Angel Athenas received a full hero’s welcome in Old Bethpage.
Athenas is a five foot tall wonder woman, with strength of body, spirit and Olympic gold, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
She just won four gold medals at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. She outlifted all women in her weight class, deadlifting 252 pounds.
“it feels good to be the best,” Athenas said. “You have to work hard every day, have to work hard every day… The main thing to do: Eat, sleep, lift. And that’s what I do every day. I love you guys.”
Proving there’s more to strength than what’s in your muscles, her titles on the world lifting stage come after a childhood of neglect and abuse.
Athenas was abandoned at birth by a drug addicted mother and was nonverbal when she was adopted from foster care at age 8 by loving parents.
“She has hyperactivity. She has autism. She has bipolar disorder,” said her mother Geralyn Bennett. “Every day she struggles but she found the Special Olympics and powerlifting.”
It was a joyous return to F.R.E.E. – Family Residences and Essential Enterprises – which supports more than 4,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and traumatic brain injury. Athenas has been a part of the FREE community for more than a decade. They’ve helped her develop life skills.
Now Athenas is sending a message that strength is about passion and determination.
“Don’t let anybody tell you’re a disability. Keep going, work your best,” Angel said.
“Their is idea is not ‘You’re a special need, you have determined needs.’ No, you are more determined than everyone else, you are a person of determination, you will work harder, you will try harder, you will succeed,” Bennett said.
“What we can conceive of we can achieve, so Angel has reminded all of us that connect to that higher purpose and magic happens,” said F.R.E.E. CEO Robert Budd.
Angel, 34, lives in a group home, works with horses and wears a message from her mother around her neck: Strong is beautiful.
Her next goal is the USA Games in Orlando and the World Games in Germany.