Surprise! Music blasted as Joseph Bradley walked into the Jefferson Davis High School gymnasium, where his peers, friends and family threw a pep rally Friday for his accomplishments in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

Bradley, who is a student at Jeff Davis High School, won three medals in equestrian (horse) events during the games, held March 14-21 in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. He won a gold medal in English equitation and bronze medals in English working trails and dressage.

“This is the first time one of our students has made it this far, and it feels good,” said Jefferson Davis High School Principal Bobby Abrams.

Bradley yelled, “JD!” The crowd responded, “You know!” The gymnasium was filled with screams and cheers when Bradley led the Marching Vols band as an honorary drum major.

“For our community to come together for something of this magnitude is very lovable,” said Mary Bradley, Joseph Bradley’s mother. “The support has been awesome, and I am completely grateful because nobody had to do anything.”

The Montgomery education superintendent and a board member recognized Bradley and gave him encouraging words during Friday’s ceremony.

“We are fired up and ready to go,” said Montgomery Public Schools board member Claudia Mitchell. “Don’t look at what you don’t have, but work with what you do have, and you will be successful in everything that you try to do.”

“Joseph taught us that our students can do anything that they put their minds to,” said Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Ann Roy Moore.

The school will be devoting the center trophy case that’s located in front of the gym to Bradley for his accomplishments.

“We’re moving all of that stuff out of the middle trophy cabinet, and it’s going to be dedicated to Joseph,” Abrams said.

The school presented Joseph and his family with keepsakes: a framed newspaper article whose headline described his achievements as “golden,” and a collage of pictures made in Abu Dhabi.

Also, Joseph was given a plaque by motivational speaker and pastor William Gailliard. The plaque doesn’t have the word “golden” on it but instead uses the heading “Chosen.”

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and this spark will get a fire going in every one of us,” Gailliard said.

For now, Joseph Bradley is focusing on graduating next month, but he is setting goals for after graduation.

“If this is what your mind is set to, let’s take the same attitude that we had to overcome obstacles and continue to reach more goals,” said Mary Bradley.

Bradley keeps her son motivated so that he will continue to accomplish things and inspire people.

“We're about to get him into a lot of skills to do independent living,” she said.

“A lot of you made it possible for us to continue to support him on a daily basis. Without your support, we wouldn’t have been able to have made this wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Abu Dhabi,” she added.

Before the pep rally ended, Joseph’s mother wanted to leave Jefferson Davis High students with one thing: inspiration.

“If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish it,” she said. “And don’t let anything stop you — nothing.”

Makayla Cameron, a Troy University journalism student from Montgomery, wrote this story as part of a project partly funded by the Alabama Press Association Journalism Foundation.