In the nearly four decades that Southerland has been a Special Olympics athlete, he has tried almost every sport, participated in several fundraisers and competed at many state-level competitions. Yet throughout his time in Special Olympics, Southerland’s favorite part has been meeting new athletes and making new friends.
“Darren always has a cheerful, friendly disposition,” said Special Olympics New Hanover County local coordinator, Tiffany Lesley. “He’s always happy, wants to help and always encourages others.”
In fact, his willingness to help is how Southerland met one of his dearest friends, Dustin Templeton. When Templeton began participating with Special Olympics New Hanover County many years ago, Southerland wanted to help get him acquainted with the program.
“I help new athletes get into games and show them how to make shots at basketball practice,” explained Southerland. “I’ve been an athlete since I was young and I learned it all then, so I try to help others learn it all, too.”
The positivity that Southerland radiates has made him stand out in his local program. And even when times are hard for him, Southerland remains positive.
For as long as he could remember, Southerland’s favorite sport had been soccer. He loved to both watch and play soccer with his team in New Hanover County. But he never imagined that one day he wouldn’t be able to play anymore.
At a competition a few years ago, he had an accident that changed his sports career forever. As an opponent went to kick the ball, they missed and kicked Southerland’s ankle instead. Even though his ankle healed, his doctor still recommended he stop playing soccer altogether. However, that news didn’t get Southerland down for too long.
“I miss playing soccer a lot. It was my favorite sport, but I keep my chin up. Now, I focus on other sports,” said Southerland.
When he isn’t playing sports or volunteering at fundraising events for Special Olympics New Hanover County, Southerland can be found working at the local PetSmart. For the past 15 years, Southerland has never missed a day of work and recently was recognized as their Employee of the Month.
“I think my friendly attitude helped me become Employee of the Month,” said Southerland. “But it’s easy to be friendly, especially because my favorite part of the job is helping the customers.”
From being PetSmart’s Employee of the Month to now being SONC’s November Athlete of the Month, Southerland has clearly made an impression on those around him. Southerland will keep brightening the days of those around him for many years to come!
Ice cream: Chocolate
Color: Carolina Blue!
Sports Team: UNC Men’s Basketball Team