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Brooksville Gold Medalist Beats the Odds

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On May 11, 1992, Robert Moore was born in a Tampa hospital. After giving birth, his mother wanted nothing to do with him. The boy’s father had abandoned him as well. Because he was left alone, Children and Family services were called and began frantically looking around to find someone to care for him. As the nurses fed him and changed his tiny diapers, the clock started ticking on who would care for him. The maternal grandparents were found and contacted. They didn’t want the baby either.   

It seemed foster care was the only option for him until 4 a.m. the next day when Jacqueline Arroyo, Robert’s paternal grandmother (85) and her husband Roberto Arroyo (67) said they could care for him long-term.

“There was no question that we would take him,” Jacqueline Arroyo told ESPN.  

“He has always been, my boy….my son,” Roberto remarked.

On paper, Jacqueline and Roberto Arroyo are his paternal grandparents, but in reality, they are Robert’s ‘mom and dad.’

Once they brought him home, they began to notice things about little Robert. As a baby, Robert was not able to grab toys and bottles like other young children his age. His fine motor skills were not at the same level as his playmates. When Robert was 4 years old, he could not walk or talk.  It took several years to determine that Robert had a disability, referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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ASD is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined as a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and in varying degrees; to include but not limited to difficulty with executive functioning, delayed learning of language, conversational difficulties, poor or delayed motor skills, and sensory activities. (Autism Society.org)

“Doctors would tell me that I would never drive and I would never go to college,” Robert said, solemnly.

“For years, specialists and doctors said I would never be able to do things, other children could do,” he added.    

Abandoned by his biological parents and later told he would never accomplish his goals and dreams, it seemed the world had already determined Robert’s destiny.

“But they were wrong,” Robert said, “All of those people who said I couldn’t do all of those things, were very wrong.”

Robert did learn to drive. In 2011, he also graduated from Hernando Christian Academy in Brooksville, Valedictorian of his class.  After that, Robert attended college and earned his Associates degree. Computers and electronics have always fascinated him, figuring out how various types of software and hardware work.  

As theoretical physicist and professor, Stephen Hawking once said (with the help of a computer-generated voice due to his own disability),  “however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you just, don’t give up.”

Not only could Robert do things that other kids could do, but against the odds, he broke down all of those barriers, and then some.

His abilities recently were in the spotlight on the world stage.

In March 2019, 26-year old Robert Moore took off on an airplane from JFK Airport from New York to Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games. More than 7,000 athletes from more than 170 countries competed this year in the Middle East/North Africa region. Top athletes from  Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Slovakia, Portugal, United States, and many other countries gathered together. This was just for the Equestrian competitions.

Robert took home three Special Olympic Equestrian medals this year.  He earned a Silver medal in Dressage, another Silver medal in English Working Trails and a Gold medal in English Equitation.

I asked Robert, “Were you familiar with the horse that you rode in Abu Dhabi?”

“No, I wasn’t,” he said, “It was the first time I had been on the horse they provided to me as we couldn’t have our own horses transported there.”

The Divisions:

The Olympic Sport of Dressage:  is the highest expression of horse training where horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements (International Equestrian Federation).

The Olympic Sport of English Equitation: is the art or practice of horse riding or horsemanship; also refers to a rider’s positions while mounted, and encompasses a rider’s ability to ride correctly and with effective aids.

The Olympic Sport of English Working Trails: is a competitive competition where horse and rider navigate a series of obstacles.  

Special Olympics Senior Director Bankole Adebanjo commented about Special Olympics athletes, “They all have very unique backgrounds. We know it is very important for them to discover their inner champion and to be able to be who they truly are.”

Robert’s love for horses began at age 5 after his kindergarten teacher had suggested Bakas Equestrian Center in Tampa, Florida as a way to assist him with the struggles he faced physically and verbally. Bakas Equestrian Center runs a Horses for the Handicapped program and is a 501c3 organization. Little did anyone know how far Robert’s unstoppable perseverance and passion for horse riding would take him.

However, the best day of Robert’s life so far occurred here at home on April 30, 2019, when Robert Moore officially became Robert Arroyo, as a result of a final adoption court process.

“It’s truly going to be the greatest thing for me,” he said prior to the adoption proceeding.

As the new college fall semester arrives, Robert will continue on with his next dream. He plans to attend  University of South Florida, majoring in Computer Engineering.

I asked Robert, “What do you plan on doing with that degree?” He replied, “It would be my first step towards being the CEO of Apple.” It may sound crazy, but as Steve Jobs, himself, once said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”


A correction was issued on May 13, 2019 as Robert will be attending University of South Florida, not FSU as originally published.

Leslie Stein
Leslie Stein
Leslie Stein has over 35 years experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist working with neurologically impaired adults. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of South Florida in Speech Pathology.
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