Staring at the opposing team through the net, Kelly Rish zones in on the server. The match is almost over, the Cabarrus Thunder need one more point to win. As the server’s arm swings back, Rish gets into position. The server’s hand connects with the leather-bound ball.
Wham. It’s in play and coming towards Rish. With no hesitation, she delivers a perfect pass to her teammate who hits it over the net. It’s silent as the ball flies over the net, past the opposing team’s attempts to block it, and hits the ground on the other side of the net.
Cheers erupt from her side of the court as Rish is scooped into hugs and high fives from her teammates. This win means Cabarrus Thunder will receive the gold medal, but in this moment Rish is smiling for a different reason.
. . .
Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Rish was wholly content with her life. Her community and family were beyond supportive. She loved playing volleyball with her sister and her sister’s friends, but the feeling she gets stepping onto the court with Cabarrus Thunder is different.
After moving to North Carolina, a family friend took Rish to the ice skating rink an hour away to try figure skating with the Special Olympics program in the area. Though she loved every minute of the sport itself, Rish noticed that being so far away made it hard to interact with her friends. That’s when she found Special Olympics Cabarrus County.
Now Rish competes in bocce, basketball, bowling, roller skating, tennis and her all-time favorite sport, volleyball.
“It’s mind-boggling to see the social growth that she has had,” says Rish’s mother, JoAnn. “Before, she was very home-oriented. But now, she is all about Special Olympics and her teammates.”
Taking her role as a teammate very seriously, Rish is always the first to congratulate her fellow athletes on a good play, encourage someone to push themselves harder or go out of her way to include everyone. For Rish, kindness is a top priority on and off the court.
“Kelly has the best attitude and gets along well with everyone,” says Special Olympics Cabarrus County local coordinator, Emily Riley.
This attitude extends beyond the field of play, as Rish and her fellow teammates have embarked on a wellness journey together.
Through Special Olympics Cabarrus County, the team takes a range of wellness classes, from physical activities to cooking classes. Rish, who hasn’t had a soda in years, is helping her teammates cut soda out of their diets as they prepare for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in July.
“I think having good nutrition is important for sports,” explains Rish. “I try to help my teammates eat better and make good food choices.”
Now, they bring what they have learned in each class to practices and to their many social activities. Having teammates help keep them on track has made a world of difference in each athlete’s progress.
For Rish, being part of a team isn’t just about the competition. It’s about helping each other out, whether that’s at practice or when making healthy lifestyle changes. Rish’s team has become more than just a team. They have become her second family; they have become the reason behind her smile.
Congratulations to Kelly Rish on being named the 2018 Special Olympics North Carolina April Athlete of the Month!
Season: The Christmas/Holiday season, because she loves holiday decorations, the Christmas music and of course exchanging gifts
Animal: Dogs, because she has two Labradoodles, Mindy and Molly.
Movie: Currently, it is Beauty and the Beast.
Sports star: Greg Olsen and Luke Kuechly