James Branton–2017 Special Olympics NC January Athlete of the Month

jan-aomFor James Branton of Gaston County, sports aren’t just about winning—they are about dedication. At just eight years old, Branton began participating in Special Olympics. He first tried swimming and fell in love with the sport. He soon started swimming at the state-level and enjoyed the atmosphere that came with sports. Since then, Branton has branched out and now participates in basketball, softball, skiing and soccer.

“He is willing to try anything!” explained Kathie Anthony, Branton’s legal guardian.

With every sport, he shows enthusiasm for learning, attends every practice, builds bonds with his teammates and never complains.

This past fall, Branton participated in his local program’s soccer league. Attending every practice and game, Branton improved on his soccer skills and became more prepared to compete in the upcoming SONC 2017 Fall Tournament.

However, not far into the season, Branton received news that could change his sports career. After he and Anthony went to his regular eye checkup, they found out that he had Choroidal Melanoma, a cancer of the eye.

Despite the diagnosis, Branton made sure he was still at every soccer practice, game and athlete social.

“He can’t stand sitting around not doing anything,” Anthony said of Branton. “He loves being involved and is not one to sit by and complain.”

Though he was still having tests done, Branton decided to continue with his training and was able to compete at SONC’s Fall Tournament with his team. His dedication to his soccer league was rewarded at Fall Tournament when he made his first goal, which has since become his favorite memory with Special Olympics.

“James is there to make progress with his sports, but still have fun,” said Gaston County local program coordinator Ashley Anderson. “He doesn’t care about the score, but he was excited to score a goal.”

This easy going, but determined attitude has drawn many to Branton. He is described as incredibly kind, friendly and always a great sport. Those who meet him immediately notice his remarkable spirit.

“His dedication is one I won’t forget, even after years of volunteering and coaching,” said Ashley Anderson. “He is a true inspiration.”

After undergoing surgery to remove his eye in early December, Branton couldn’t sit still for long. After a few days of resting, he was up and ready to go back to his volunteer position at Cherryville Area Ministries, where he has volunteered for the last 17 years.

Though he is still adjusting to the loss of his eye, Branton plans on attending the SONC 2017 Winter Games on January 8 and 9.

“The doctor cleared him to compete, but I asked if he thought he should rest instead,” said Anthony. “He’s been competing at the Winter Games for 17 years, so he just looked at me and said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’”

With that kind of determination, we know he can bring home the gold!

Congratulations on being named SONC’s 2017 January Athlete of the Month, James!


Cereal: Raisin Bran

Music Artist: Zac Brown Band

Animal: His family’s dog , Dixie!

Vacation: The beach

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