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Neal Graham — 2017 Special Olympics NC September Athlete of the Month

Just take a walk down Lonely Street to Heartbreak Hotel and you may find Neal Graham of Avery County impersonating his favorite singer, Elvis Presley.

That’s exactly what he was doing when Special Olympics Avery County’s local coordinator Holly Magid first met him and that first impression has stuck with her ever since.

“When I first got involved in Avery County’s Special Olympics program, Neal stood out immediately. When I first met him, he was performing in a talent show impersonating Elvis Presley in full costume.  His flare and excitement carried through even the next day,” said Magid.

Graham’s energetic personality may help him perform Elvis’s best hits in front of an audience, but it also helps him on the field of play. There isn’t a sport he won’t try and for Graham, that means practice, practice, practice.

Recently, Graham took up golf as a Special Olympics sport. Though he used to play with his father, it had been a while since he picked up a club. But that didn’t stop him from setting a goal and going after it.

Neal Graham impersonating Elvis Presley

“What Neal does, he does 100%. When he goes to practice, he gives his all,” explained Natalie Buchanan, Residential Manager of Avery Group Home. “He is super dedicated in all he does. If everyone worked as hard as Neal does, we would all be better off.”

After training with his coaches and other Avery County athletes, Graham quickly got back into the swing of things. Now, he is aiming to head to Charlotte to compete in Special Olympics NC’s 2017 Fall Tournament in November.

“When I started playing, it felt a little different. It was hard at first, but I got used to it and I’m pretty good now,” said Graham.

Graham is determined to apply that work ethic to all aspects of his life. In his job at Shady Lawn Lodge, Graham can be found making the beds, folding laundry, taking the trash out and doing what he loves most, cleaning. He does it all with a smile and brings back cleaning tips to his friends at Avery Group Home.

His enthusiasm and determined spirit make him a joy to be around and a fantastic athlete, but what really stands out to those around Graham is his heart. Always the first to offer a hand, Graham goes out of his way to help his fellow Avery Group home residents and teammates.

“Whether he’s offering to do chores for others or encouraging and helping other residents practice their sports, Neal just truly cares for everyone,” said Buchanan.

Between his stellar Elvis impersonation, his passion for sports and his compassion for others, it’s easy to see how Graham has made a lasting impression on those around him. He may be a hound dog, as Elvis says, but he is certainly a friend of ours!

Congratulations on being SONC’s 2017 September Athlete of the Month, Neal!

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