The most astonishing story in Columbia County sports history just played out during the past two weeks, and it all happened on the other side of the world.
It didn't involve baseball. It wasn't in golf. Not even football.
It was in the shot put.
Grovetown resident Scott Winkler took the gold medal and set a new paralympics world record in the shot put during the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One week later, Lakeside High School graduate Reese Hoffa heaved the winning shot to blow away the competition at the world track and field championships in Osaka, Japan.
You can't make this kind of stuff up. What are the chances of one community producing two world champion shot-putters at the same time?
And it's all happened right here, in Columbia County.
Winkler's story is awe-inspiring. A veteran of the Iraq war who was paralyzed from the waist down after an accident in Tikrit in 2003, Winkler started throwing the shot and discus just a year ago. Since then, he has already set the world record for disabled athletes - three times.
Winkler easily eclipsed the competition in Brazil, outdistancing the field with his first throw from a specially designed chair. Heaving a 16-pound metal ball is hard; imagine doing it with nothing but upper body strength.
Then there's Reese Hoffa.
What an incredible young man. Abandoned as a child in a Kentucky orphanage, Hoffa was adopted by a couple who moved to Evans when he was just 6. He was a big kid who played the usual sports at Lakeside High until a fateful day when he threw the shot put for the first time - and promptly broke the school record.
Picking up gold in Osaka is the icing on the cake for Hoffa's career. He's the No. 1 ranked shot putter in the world in both indoor and outdoor, and is on track for the 2008 Olympics.
Much has been made of Hoffa's showmanship - gnawing a turkey leg during a victory lap, donning a mask and cape for a competition - but sportsmanship is what really sets him apart. He's proudly drug-free in a sport notorious for artificially enhanced athletes, and he happily spends time visiting children to demonstrate his skills.
Folks here in Columbia County are always looking for reasons to put the county "on the map."
With Scott Winkler and Reese Hoffa, we just found two of them!
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