I don’t let my disability stop me from doing anything I want to do.”
Special Olympian Harlan Wood has been a Real Change vendor for about 13 years. He’s good at it. He has earned his regular spot in front of the Wallingford Post Office because he sells at least 300 papers a month.
Wood has learning disabilities that make it impossible for him to hold a lot of jobs. “Reading and writing is difficult. Math isn’t good either.” He said customers ask him if he’s read the paper yet, and he has to reply, “No, I haven’t, because I don’t read that well. Even looking things up on Google is difficult. I can be shown something a thousand times, but —” He stopped talking and shook his head.
What he is good at is sports. He has competed in the Special Olympics for about 10 years. He has been to the Washington state Olympics in bowling, track and field, softball and basketball. He’s won in every one of those categories except softball. In this summer’s Washington state Special Olympics, he won silver in the shot put, gold in the 100-meter walk and bronze in the 200-meter walk, as well as first place in the regional softball competition. He’s the pitcher.
He and his friend Cindy competed in the Run with the Cops fundraiser for the Special Olympics in Federal Way. This is the second year they’ve competed. He is often a featured speaker at fundraisers for the Special Olympics. He enjoys it, especially when “Tyler [Bjork of the Washington state Special Olympics organization] doesn’t know what I’m going to say.” He adds that it serves Bjork right, though, since, Wood says, he often requires Wood to speak at short notice.
His connection with the Special Olympics began when he walked into the Roxbury Lanes bowling alley, where a man was asking people, “Who can I talk to about bowling?” The man turned out to be Jason Powell, who was coaching for the Special Olympics. “I have a friend who has been doing the Special Olympics for 16 years now. Their team is not competing right now, though, because they can’t get enough coaches.”
Wood grew up in Madera, California, and traveled widely through the United States as a child. He came to Seattle in 1987 with his then-girlfriend. They have two sons, both born in Washington. He spent a couple of years working at both stadiums for Aramark’s janitorial services. While he has occasionally been homeless, he’s housed now but wants to get his own place.
He has been saving for a car and expects to get one soon. His disability affected his ability to get a driver’s license, though. “When I first took my driving test, I failed the written part. When I went in the second time, I had someone in the room with me, reading me the questions, and I gave them the answer. I passed the drivers test 84%.” The assistance was provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles. “A friend told me about that [service], but stubborn me didn’t listen.”
There have been times when being stubborn has worked in his favor. “I never give up! Life is hard, no matter how you look at it. And if you don’t give up, you’ll make it.”
Anything he’d like to do next, besides get his own place? “I’d like to get on the cleanup crew at T-Mobile Park. I’ve been calling and calling their phone line.” So far, no luck. But he keeps trying.
Harlan Wood is a Real Change vendor. His badge number for Venmo payments is 11324.
Read more of the Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2023 issue.