Feeling the vibration of the racket as it connects with the ball and then watching it soar across the net is enough to make any tennis player fall in love with the sport. For as long as she can remember, Special Olympics New Hanover County coach Year Billie Fitzsimons has wanted to share that feeling with as many people as possible. That dedication led to her being named the 2016 Special Olympics North Carolina Coach of the Year.
From coaching professionally to giving private lessons, Fitzsimons has loved teaching others how to play the game that has always given her so much joy. After retiring to Wilmington, North Carolina, Fitzsimons wanted to continue her work with tennis and also get involved with volunteering in her new community.
“Special Olympics has always had a place in my heart and so has tennis,” said Fitzsimons. “Becoming a coach was the perfect opportunity for me to combine my love for the two.”
That combination has helped many athletes progress from skill level to short court and then to full court competition. Her training sessions are structured and include stretching, skills development and playing a game of tennis. With each session, athletes learn how to play tennis with confidence, patience and, most importantly, enjoyment.
“She has the ability to help each individual reach their personal goal,” says New Hanover County local coordinator Tiffany Lesley. “She strives to bring out their very best.”
But as much as Fitzsimons enjoys the game itself, there is something else that has stuck with her in all her years coaching for Special Olympics New Hanover County.
“Overall, the sportsmanship and compassion that I see from one athlete to the next is what has impacted me most,” explains Fitzsimons. “When they come out on the courts, everyone is excited to be there and they care about each other.”
When she isn’t coaching for Special Olympics, she is a volunteer coach for Wilmington’s Abilities Tennis program. Many of the athletes she works with in Special Olympics New Hanover County’s program also participate in the Abilities Tennis year-round program. With this program, they can continue their tennis training, while also training for sports that take place in different seasons. Right now, many tennis athletes are preparing for the Wilmington Abilities Tennis Tournament on February 25.
Being a coach has given Fitzsimons the opportunity to assist many athletes in learning a sport that is near and dear to her heart. Her advice to anyone considering becoming a coach for Special Olympics?
“If you have a love for your sport, it gives you a chance to pass on that love,” says Fitzsimons. “You’ll never find a more outgoing, attentive group than with Special Olympics. I think as a coach, you will get as much out of it as the athletes do, maybe more.”
Fitzsimons plans to continue sharing her knowledge, passion and joy for tennis with athletes for as long as she can.
Congratulations on being named 2016 Special Olympics NC Coach of the Year, Billie