MISSOULA — Most of us are painfully aware that life, like sports, is unfair.

Yet every once in a while an incident occurs in your community that leaves you shaking your head. Makes you wonder what the hell is going on.

Such an incident occurred 10 days ago when well-known Special Olympics Montana ambassador and athlete Gary Fuller was bashed in the head with a baseball bat while picking up friends to go to dinner. He paid an expensive price for being a trusting soul and came very close to losing his life last weekend.

The good news is he's alive and improving, speaking regularly now and recognizing friends. The bad news is he has a long road back after brain surgery.

Violence hits every community. It's not my motivation for writing this column and I won't dignify the alleged assailant by mentioning his name.

My purpose is to celebrate the way Missoula has responded to this tragedy. And to point out how important Special Olympics Montana is for all of us, helping us get acquainted with role models like Gary Fuller.

That's right, role model. A man who has made a difference in a lot of lives, always there to help whether it be driving someone to pick up groceries or offering encouragement or doing his specialty: Standing in front of a room full of people to sing the praises of Special Olympics.

"One thing the athletes, I think they see but don't see as much, is the impact they have on all of us," said Jim Foley of Missoula, who has known Fuller for a decade and worked with him closely as a volunteer committee co-director for Special Olympics Montana. "We're better off because they entered our lives. Not the other way around."

You may have seen Fuller around town. He's a big guy in his late 30s who loves his black cowboy hat. He's been involved with Special Olympics Montana for many years and has continued to compete despite nagging issues with his feet.

We all know how scary public speaking can be. Not to Gary, who talks about the impact of Special Olympics on his life and the lives of his fellow athletes as a Global Messenger, traveling the Treasure State to visit with Rotary Clubs, the media and anyone else willing to listen.

That's all on hold now for the foreseeable future, along with Fuller's heavy involvement in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, a fundraising and awareness campaign that benefits Special Olympics Montana.

Now it's our turn to reach out to Gary. I'm happy to report Missoula has responded in amazing ways so far.

So long was the list of visitors in the intensive care unit at Providence St. Patrick Hospital that a book was purchased so that well-wishers could sign their name and convey a message. Montana football coach Bobby Hauck paid a visit with a ball and T-shirt.

"Gary is a friend to all," said Missoula's Jim O'Day, who has known Fuller since his days as Montana athletic director and considers himself fortunate to have worked with Gary on the Special Olympics Montana board of directors.

"He always greets you with a smile. He's always so excited to see you and give you a big hug. He's one of the special people that has made a big difference in a lot of people's lives."

Fundraising efforts to help defray Fuller's massive medical bill are underway. You may donate to the cause by going to gofundme.com/help-assaulted-special-olympian.

The goal is $1,500 and they're up to $510 right now.

I'm betting Missoula is going to blow that goal away.

Email Bill Speltz at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @billspeltz.

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