Special Olympian powers through pain

No one walks off an injury quite like Dotty Pipkin.

Competing in the Special Olympics of North Carolina Summer Games on June 4, Pipkin unknowingly broke her right ankle coming out of the starting block in her first race of the day.

Not only did she complete the race and finish fourth out of six athletes, she pushed on to compete in two more events, earning a third-place bronze medal in each.

The usually talkative Pipkin never complained of any pain, and it wasn't until the next day that an emergency room doctor told her and her father that she had broken her fibula in two places during the fall.

If Special Olympics had a disabled list, Pipkin would probably scoff at it.

Pipkin, 40, and her 42-year old sister Wendy, also a Special Olympian, live in a Kannapolis apartment two blocks from their childhood home, where their parents, Cliff and Betty Pipkin, still live.

Wendy participated in her first Special Olympics event when she was in third grade, and Dotty started when she was 12 years old. Over the years, they both have competed in swimming, boccie, bowling and track and field.

A huge fan of teen idols Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, Wendy loves music. Her favorite Special Olympics memory was attending an event on the N.C. coast in the 1980s and seeing a performance by another teen idol, Chubby Checker, famous for "The Twist."

Dotty and Wendy have been training with coach Gail Bass for six years. Annually, the Pipkins compete in the state track and field games.

This year's event was at Apex Middle Creek High School. The Pipkins competed in the same events: the 25- and 50-meter race walks and the softball throw. They participate in different divisions, determined by age and ability.

The starting gun for Dotty's first event, the 25-meter race walk, was fired at 8:45 a.m. As she pushed off the starting blocks, her right leg buckled and she couldn't stop herself from falling head first onto the asphalt track.

Gail Bass's husband, Steve, was among the five volunteers that helped Dotty back to her feet. Dotty pronounced herself fine and insisted on finishing the race.

During the next five hours, which included two more events, Gail Bass repeatedly checked on Dotty's condition. Dotty continued to insist that her leg was fine but that she was a little tired and hot.

"She talks all the time and asks a lot of questions," said Gail Bass, but "she wasn't saying anything, so I knew something was wrong. I thought it was heat-related because she continued to run."

Dotty was more worried she was letting her coach down than about her own condition. Not even Wendy could get Dotty to talk about her leg. Gail Bass arranged for a golf cart to transport Dotty to her events and award ceremonies the rest of the day.

After Dotty's final event, an onsite physician checked her vitals and told Gail that Dotty's blood pressure and pulse rate were running a little high. By the end of the day, those readings had returned to normal.

Dotty and Wendy stayed with their parents that night, and their father noticed a bruise on Dotty's right ankle the next morning.

A trip to the emergency room revealed a double fracture.

The following day, an orthopedic doctor wrapped her lower leg in a soft cast, replaced by a permanent cast a week later.

Dotty's injury won't keep her out of any Special Olympics action. The boccie season is next on her schedule, but it doesn't start until after Labor Day.

Until then, she has to contend with her cast.

"I'm going to be itching," she says.