Smiles all the way around

Published 7:58 pm Saturday, December 19, 2009

From gold medals to a successful business, Tim Zielinski’s life has been full of victories.

“Everything he does, he does to win — and he does it all with a smile,” said Frank Zielinski, his father.

Tim Zielinski is a 29-year-old Suffolk resident who was born with Down syndrome, but it has never held him back from doing what he loves and doing it well.

He has more than 80 medals to prove it.

Which are his favorites? “The gold ones,” he said. And he has a few of those for weightlifting and golf.

“His golf swing is unbelievable. It’s just beautiful,” said Frank, who taught his son the game when Tim was 16. “He just picked it up from watching television and playing for about a week.”

During the Special Olympics Virginia Beach Invitational, Tim finished with a 9-over, 75, on the par-66 course, which tied he and a teammate for the gold medal.

Tim also won the silver medal during the Special Olympics National Invitational in Nebraska this year. Two of his teammates won the gold and bronze medals, which was sufficient to earn the Suffolk golf team the gold medal, as well.

Tim also takes great pride in the deer and antelope heads he has hanging in his office.

“Any kind of man sport — it doesn’t matter what it is — Tim does them all,” Frank said. It’s the one-man sports he does best though.

“He likes to do things he can challenge himself in. He likes to push himself. He’s a self-starter. When we were building the dry cleaners, he would watch what we were doing and just grab a wrench and start helping.”

Giving up a lucrative career as a maintenance engineer for several area nursing homes, Frank bought a laundromat business when Tim graduated from high school to provide his son with a job. His wife later quit her job at a mortgage company to join the family business. The family has since sold the laundromat, and now owns Cleanerama, operating two successful dry cleaners in Portsmouth and Suffolk.

“He knows that Monday through Friday, and sometimes on Saturday, we work. It gives him a sense of self-fulfillment,” Frank said. “He knows the value of money. He may not know the currency, but it tells him that his work is valuable.”

Tim is proactive at his job. He hands out paychecks every Thursday to all his coworkers, presses and folds clothes and cleans up the place after everyone leaves at night.

“Everyone here loves him to death,” Cindy Burns, a co-worker of Tim’s said. “He helps out with absolutely everything around here. He’s always ready to help us.”

For Tim, working really isn’t about the money. He saves all the money he earns at his job. After noticing that 17 of his son’s paychecks had not been cashed, Frank had to tell him they needed to take them to bank.

“He said he was saving them. So, we cashed them, and he’s holding on to the money for hunting, golf and Christmas,” Frank said.

Tim has two nieces and two nephews whose Christmas gifts he’s already bought. Seeing them during the holidays is what makes Christmas one of his favorite holidays.

“He’s always waiting at the door for them with a huge smile on his face,” Frank said. “He’s already got all their gifts wrapped. He just loves doing things for other people.”

Putting a smile on other people’s faces is something else Tim should get a gold medal for. He never stops smiling, and it’s contagious to everyone around him.