GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Since birth, Gulfport native Lee Anne Bertucci has faced the odds and beaten them. Numerous brain surgeries and years of therapy haven't dampened her winning spirit.
Lee Anne grew up sailing at the Gulfport Yacht Club. So when she qualified to represent the U.S. at the Special Olympic World Games in Athens, she chose to bring her dad and team mate, Frank Bertucci. He calls the best trip of his life.
"To leave on Father's Day with Lee Anne to go to Greece, and spending that two and a half weeks was incredible," Frank Bertucci said. "I don't think we've ever had that much one on one time."
Two and half amazing, but tough weeks. They had grueling early morning schedules and a lot of hard work.
"I can tell you, one thing that really shocked me is how competitive it was. Their coaches were very serious, they had the charts out and the wind meters."
The wind even flipped their boat once in the salty Mediterranean Sea. What would have been scary to most, was nothing to Lee Anne who underwent her most recent brain surgery last March. This fearless winner, both on and off the water, stayed focused on getting back in the race.
She and her Dad even joke about their "big flip."
"Did we turtle?" dad asked Lee Anne.
"Yep," she answered.
"Where were you when I found you? Clinging on holding onto the cockpit? Yeah, you wondered where I was?" Frank asked as Lee Anne shook her head. "No you didn't? Ha ha ha."
In a nail biter, they fought their way to the finish line and took home a Silver medal. But Lee Anne is quick to point out, they almost got the gold.
"We were close to going, but these our other bunch from Finland, they were real tough," Lee Anne said.
Finland may have taken the gold, but our Team USA will always have the memories and lasting friendships made there.
"It was just getting to meet everybody from the other countries. Telling each other good-bye was the upsetting part," Lee Anne said.
She didn't mind saying goodbye to some of the Greek food though, especially some strange looking ham.
"Their ham was different. It was like a hot dog. Like a little, bitty, baby, hot dog," Lee Anne recalled with a smile.
In an ancient world thousands of miles from home, on the open sea, this father-daughter Olympic team said they were treated like royalty.
"Here we were out on this beautiful beach and all these volunteers waiting on us hand and foot," Frank said.
He and the volunteers can tell you, 'they' are actually the students and the athletes are the teachers.
"I think you get involved because you think that you're going to teach them something, but what you find out very quickly is, you're the one learning," Frank said.
Along with the Bertucci's silver medal, U.S. teams also brought home a bronze in sailing and one Gold medal in the bowling event. To learn more about the Special Olympics, visit www.specialolympics.org.