Landon Johnson (right)

Landon Johnson has a lot to tell the world. You can see it in his eyes, gestures and expressions when the Benton County athlete gets enthusiastic.

Johnson was one of 55 athletes honored during the 2024 Summer Games Opening Ceremony on June 7 in Terre Haute. He sat onstage alongside his friends and fellow athletes, then threw out the “first pitch” to kick off a weekend celebration of fun and competition.

Johnson has Down syndrome and mostly is non-verbal, but he couldn’t hide his excitement in being part Opening Ceremony. He has been going to Summer Games for years, and being an active participant in the salute to former Major League Baseball pitcher Carl Erskine was everything he enjoys about Special Olympics and sports.

“Thinking this was because he participates in the softball throw, he said yes (after he said ‘no’ to a speaking part),” Johnson’s mom, Caroline, told the Benton Review. “They nailed it. And so did Special Olympics Indiana. The tribute to (Carl) Erskine, Jimmy (Erskine), (Jackie) Robinson and all those who press on for someone else was moving to say the least.”

Carl Erskine played for the Dodgers from 1948-59 and was a teammate of Jackie Robinson, who broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947. After his playing career ended, Carl Erskine began a 40-year role as a champion of Special Olympics in part on behalf of his son, Jimmy, who like Johnson had Down syndrome.

Both Jimmy and Carl Erskine died recently, leaving a legacy of inclusion for athletes across the Hoosier state.

In Terre Haute, Johnson competed in the 50-meter dash, standing long jump and softball throw with his toss of 5.65 meters earning him a bronze medal.

It’s the symbolic throw that Johnson made earlier in the weekend, though, that will remain with him forever.

“You don’t have to be Carl Erskine to do great things,” Special Olympics Indiana President and CEO Jeff Mohler said. “You just have to help someone. That’s a great thing.”

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