Take a look at new Broncos center Gino Gradkowski from his NFL experience with the Ravens.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – For someone so intense and physical as 6-foot-3, 300-pound center Gino Gradkowski on the football field, it may be surprising to see him smiling and cheering along the athletes at the 2015 Special Olympics of Colorado last month.
Even his mother, Debbie, who describes her son as a soft-hearted kid growing up, says it still to this day makes her laugh when she sees his two personalities.
"He has a big heart," Debbie said. "It's just so weird because then he gets on a football field and he's a totally different person. It's just really weird to me."
The lighthearted side of Gradkowski comes out in full force when he's around Special Olympics athletes. He's been involved with the organization since his college days at the University of Delaware.
"It's just fun to get to get to know the athletes, to interact with them, and just to watch them compete and help," Gradkowski said. "It's very inspiring for me."
Not only does working with the athletes inspire him, but they also keep him grounded.
"It puts things into perspective," Gradkowski said. "Our problems are peanuts compared what they have to deal with day in and day out. And for them to have the passion that they do and the work ethic – it makes you think that there's nothing that you need to complain about, there's no reason you shouldn't give 100 percent."
At the conclusion of his collegiate career, Gradkowski was drafted to the Baltimore Ravens. In Maryland, Gradkowski continued his involvement with the Special Olympics, where his love for working with those with special needs continued to grow.
One particular experience he had assisting at the Special Olympics in Maryland has stuck with him and inspired him to continue his work with the program.
"In Maryland, I held the rope for an athlete who was running the forty-meter dash and he was blind," Gradkowski said. "So the way he ran it was he held onto the rope and I was at the end of the rope, holding it and actually had to stop him after he crossed the finish line. Just to see how hard he ran, without being able to see – it was unbelievable. And it was a great experience for me."
This offseason Gradkowski arrived in Denver and immediately got involved with the Special Olympics of Colorado. He was on hand for the 2015 event in June to assist the athletes.
"… I helped spot at the power lifting events – which was awesome," Gradkowski said. "[I] helped out with gymnastics a little bit, but I don't know much about that. Then I got to watch some athletes play soccer and gave out some medals for swimming."
Gradkowski says his favorite part of the day was helping the athletes at the power-lifting event.
"The energy in the gym was unbelievable and it was a lot of fun to get in there and actually be involved," Gradkowski said.
One athlete in particular reached out to him asking him to spot him specifically. Debbie says that of all the stories that Gradkowski has told her this might be her favorite.
"He texts Gino and asks him if he would spot him," Debbie said. "So Gino went and spotted him. He must have really made an impression on this kid - for him to ask Gino to do that…"
In addition to helping out with the festivities, Gradkowski was also asked to give a speech to all the athletes participating in the Colorado event, something that for someone as passionate about the organization was a great honor.
"It was pretty cool," Gradkowski said. "There were a lot of people there. I'm not much of a speech-giver but it was good to get to talk to all of the athletes, to let them know why I'm doing it: to let them know that they're an inspiration for me and I'm just a fan of theirs."