BY MATT KANE
DELANO, MN The recent makeover at Coborn’s in Delano included giving the storefront a fresh, new look, but the sparkle on the exterior of the building pales greatly in comparison to the glimmering gold and silver medals that have hung around the neck of Eric Anderson inside the store for the past week.
The gleam was impossible to miss. These medals were like none of the others Anderson had ever displayed before in his 17 years at the store. These were medals won a week earlier at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Game in Seattle. Two golds and one silver.
“These are much larger and heavier,” said Anderson’s father, Dave Anderson, of the medals.
Anderson captured his first medal on the first day of the Games July 3. It was a silver in the 200-meter freestyle
Then came gold.
In an incredible come-from-behind effort on Tuesday of the Games, Anderson claimed gold in the 100-meter breaststroke.
“Phenomenal race. Absolutely phenomenal,” said Delano’s Kristin Nelson, who with her husband, Dale, coached the Minnesota Swim Team. “Eric came from way behind. A lot of these other racers start off the block. Eric starts in the water and comes from way behind. If you listen to the ESPN broadcast of the race, it is phenomenal. He absolutely dominates the race.”
Anderson replayed the end of the race.
“I just kept on going. There was a guy right behind me,” he explained. “I was happy, and shocked. I didn’t know if I was going to win or lose that one.”
Anderson admitted to being unsure of his win, even at the final touch of the wall, as his neighboring swimmer made the turn and kept going.
“He kept going, but I thought I was done, and I was looking at the score wondering if I got it,” he said. “I got it.”
As excited as Anderson was, his parents in the crowd were potentially even more excited.
“We were so excited. I was down there with the “Go, Eric” card, and his mother (Carol) was up on top,” said Dave Anderson. “Someone videoed her up there, and she is just off the rails yelling and screaming.
“It was very exciting.”
The remarkable win earned Anderson a live interview on ESPN.
“The interview was awesome,” said Anderson.
Two days after the thrilling win in the breaststroke, Anderson picked up his second gold medal, this time as part of Minnesota’s win in the 4x25 freestyle.
Anderson also swam the individual medley Tuesday. In that race, he found out how strict the judges are at the Special Olympic Games, as he was disqualified for an illegal kick.
“I had a pretty good week,” said Anderson, referring to his effort in the pool, and his recognition at the grocery store.
“The whole team is proud of him and we love to encourage him as he went on,” said Coborn’s Store Director Joe Tipka.
The 32-year-old Anderson has been Delano’s favorite grocery bagger since the Coborn’s store opened for business in 2001. On special weeks throughout his tenure, customers have had the pleasure of seeing medals draped around his neck following accomplishments on the basketball court, bowling lanes, track, and swimming pool.
“We encouraged him to show off his hardware during the week after,” said Tipka. “There is a lot of knuckle-bumping and high-fiving when Eric shows up with his medals.”
And a lot of congratulatory sentiments from the thousands of Coborn’s customers who go through Anderson’s line each week.
“Everybody is asking me about them,” Kristin Nelson said of Anderson’s medals. “I tell them, ‘Go see them, because I know he is wearing them.’”
The Minnesota swim team, including Anderson, the Nelsons, and seven other athletes from around the state, spent a week in Seattle. They flew out of Minnesota June 30 and returned July 7.
The entire time, Nelson was amazed by the grandness of the Special Olympics.
“It was beyond what I expected. You read about it and you hear about it, but to see 4,000 athletes funneling down into Husky Stadium (University of Washington), and the names that were there supporting these athletes, was amazing,” she said. “And the level of sport and support was amazing.
“I was amazed at the expanse of it. We knew this was the national level, but it was a whole other level I didn’t expect. I was amazed at how big of a deal this was.”
The trip was made even better for the Minnesota coach by the success of her swimmers.
Each of the eight Minnesota swimmers claimed at least one individual medal, and the two relay teams both medaled. In all, the Minnesotans swam away with 25 medals.
“We are so proud of him and all of them,” said Dave Anderson of his son and his team.
The time frame of the Games caused Anderson to miss the Delano 4th of July Celebration and the music he loves so dearly to dance to, but, he said, the trip was worth it.
“Seattle was awesome,” he said. “It was fun. I had a good time.”
Getting to the USA Games had nothing to do with luck for Anderson. It was a goal he and his coaches set many years ago.
“The journey started five years ago,” Kristin Nelson said. “We started the team here in Delano five years ago and Eric was one of our first swimmers. At that time, we saw that Eric might be somebody qualified to go to the USA Games, which are every four years. At that time, we were trying to figure out how to get him there, how do we get there, and how does this work. As we got closer, we learned about how to get him there.”
Anderson first had to qualify for the Games in the pool, which he did at the state meet. Then, he had to be selected to the Minnesota team through an application process.
Minnesota chose four male and four female swimmers. Anderson made the cut.
The Nelsons also had to apply and be selected to coach in the Games.
“We wanted to go with Eric because we are proud coaches. We wanted to see him perform at that level, which we knew he could do,” said Kristin Nelson.
Anderson’s performance earned him three medals, including two golds.
“For him to be able to place at this high of a level is astonishing. It really speaks to his work ethic,’ said Nelson, who is constantly around top athletes at My Bodyshop Fitness Center, the Delano gym she owns with her husband. “He worked hard all year to prepare for this. He swam hard and he trained hard, at least twice per week. Eric does not get tired.”
He surely doesn’t get tired of showing off those medals.