May 24, 2012 11:00 AM
Though talented, Rory Kinane needed more than that to go to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea this January.
After the 15-year-old speed skater, a Charlotte native and Checkers season ticket holder for the last three seasons, won his qualifying race, there was the small matter of the lottery.
His chances of winning that lottery? Three in 38,000.
“Needless to say, we were excited,” said Stephany Kinane, Rory’s mother. “We knew the world games were coming up, but the odds of actually getting to go were astronomical. We were not expecting to hear anything.”
But they did. Along with a figure skater from Charlotte and a snowboarder from Raleigh, Rory, who suffers from comprehension issues, was one of just three lottery winners from the entire pool of North Carolinians. All of the sudden, he’s preparing for the trip and the experience of a lifetime at the eventual site of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang.
It will be the first time he’s been on a plane, as the Kinanes don’t consider themselves to be avid travelers. They have passports, but they don’t use them.
“Our idea of exotic is going to the beach,” said his mother.
It’s a trip that certainly wasn’t on Rory’s radar when he first put on a pair of skates at age nine.
“At first, he just walked on the ice,” said Tappie Dellinger, ice skating coach at Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail. “In his first couple of events, he would literally run around the course in his skates.”
However, his speed skating led to an interest in hockey, and between the two, he was glued to the ice. He then became a fixture at Checkers games, where most know him simply as the redheaded kid waiting to high five players as they take the ice.
“He had the desire for it,” said Dellinger. “He just loves being on the ice and feeling that cold air. He definitely has the passion for skating.”
“He’s one of those kids who, when he decides he really likes something, he really likes something,” said Stephany Kinane. “When he decided this was what he wanted to do, that’s what he did. If you took him to the rink five days a week, he’d be a happy guy five days a week.”
The fruits of his labor didn’t take long to show. Though he needed that unbelievable stroke of luck to get to the world games, those who would know vouch for his ability.
“He’s legit,” said Checkers goalie Mike Murphy. “He can fly.”
Murphy first met Rory while making a community appearance at a Special Olympics event along with teammate Michal Jordan. The three struck up a conversation, which led to Rory keeping tabs on the players throughout the season.
“We kind of became pals,” said Murphy. “He’d always say hi to me when we were coming on the ice at games and always had a big smile on his face. He seems like a happy kid.”
Rory also got to know Lee Falardeau, who played for the Checkers during their ECHL days from 2004-2009, in much the same way. The two still keep tabs on each other via social media.
“He’s just someone who loves skating and loves hockey, and you can see when you talk to him that he’s got a real joy for it,” said Falardeau, who now works for an IT staffing firm in Charlotte.
Though his favorite team is the Checkers, Rory’s interest in hockey spans generations. His mother says that he’s been known to recite statistics from the 1960s from memory. He’s also particularly excited about an upcoming training trip to Lake Placid, NY, even though the famous “Miracle on Ice” event took place 17 years before he was born.
“He knows it’s sacred in hockey,” said Stephany Kinane.
Rory is also a NASCAR fan, having latched on to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the same way he latched on to the Checkers. Besides watching races, he also enjoys working on a 1969 Chevelle that his father gave him prior to passing away in July. Friends recently came over to help him with the engine and power steering.
“Things he and his dad were supposed to do," said Rory's mother.
With the sudden and unexpected passing of his father due to a heart condition still fresh, the world games are coming as a welcome distraction.
“This helps get our mind on something else,” said Stephany Kinane.
“He’s battled some stuff, but you can tell he just loves being on the ice,” said Falardeau. “I’m rooting for him.”
“I had been praying (that he’d get to go),” said Dellinger. “He had put in a lot of hard work and this gives him a positive direction because he’s been through a lot. I can’t say if he’ll win a medal or not, but the experience is something that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”
In order to help cover the costs of his trip to South Korea, Special Olympics North Carolina is collecting donations on Rory’s behalf. Click here to help him meet his fundraising goal.