Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) presented ten 2018 state-level awards honoring outstanding individuals, companies and organizations that support Special Olympics in North Carolina, according to Keith L. Fishburne, president/CEO of Special Olympics North Carolina.
The following individuals and companies received recognition for their commitment and dedication to Special Olympics during the past year:
- Athlete of the Year: Sammy Flores, Wake County
- Frank Starling Coach of the Year: Chris Underwood, Wake County
- Family of the Year: Dixon Bailes Family, Durham County
- Volunteer of the Year: Lewis McLean, Lincoln County
- Coordinator of the Year: Colleen Lanigan, Orange County
- Billy Quick Leadership Award: Mike Stone, Guilford/Greensboro
- Organization of the Year: Kohl’s in Fuquay-Varina
- Corporation of the Year: von Drehle Corporation, Richmond County
- Chairman’s Award: Cardinal Innovations Healthcare
- President’s Award: Colleen Gillan, McDowell County
The 2018 SONC Athlete of the Year Award was presented to Sammy Flores of Wake County. In his more than two decades as a Special Olympics athlete, he has developed as an athlete and a leader. He has competed regularly in athletics, speed skating and soccer and, in 2014, he won a gold medal in the triathlon at the Special Olympics USA Games. Not only has Flores flourished in competition, but he has leveraged all of his experience to spread the word about Special Olympics as a trained public speaker, sharing the power of sports with his community. Flores’ teammates and coaches, all of whom he considers to be his second family, attest to his leadership abilities.
The 2018 SONC Frank Starling Coach of the Year Award was presented to Chris Underwood of Wake County. Underwood has coached the Special Olympics Wake County swim team for 12 years, serving as head coach for the past decade. In that time, he has made a significant impact on the local program, the athletes and the Special Olympics movement as a whole. Underwood’s personal commitment to health and fitness has benefitted Special Olympics NC athletes as he brings that same level of dedication to assisting them in training. He has developed a fitness and nutrition program that his swim team will incorporate into practice, supported Special Olympics staff members by developing and hosting an online database to house swimming times from athletes around the state and serves as the Speech Coach for two Special Olympics North Carolina Global Messengers. He has served as a coach for Team North Carolina athletes at the 2014 and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, fundraises for the organization through events like Over the Edge by rappelling 30 stories and recruits co-workers to serve as volunteers for the organization. In 2018, the Coach of the Year award was renamed after Frank Starling of Greensboro who coached North Carolina athletes at the first Special Olympics Games in 1968.
The 2018 SONC Family of the Year Award was presented to the Dixon Bailes Family of Durham County. For over ten years, Christie Dixon has been active on the Durham County advisory board and a key fund raiser for the local program. In six years, she has raised more than $10,000 through an annual bingo fundraiser. She is a certified bowling coach and spearheads the Durham County bowling program. When not in the bowling alley, Dixon can reliably be found on the sidelines or in the bleachers cheering on her son Nick and his fellow athletes.
The 2018 SONC Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Lewis McLean of Lincoln County. Involved since 1995, McLean is considered to be the go-to guy for a variety of volunteer needs throughout the Special Olympics North Carolina movement. From serving on the SONC Board of Directors (2010-2015 and rejoining in 2017) to coaching Team NC volleyball at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games to being a key component of the basketball Sport Development Team, McLean is a constant fixture of Special Olympics NC events. His consistency and reliability make him an indispensable volunteer and his contagious passion brings new people into the movement.
The 2018 Local Program Coordinator of the Year Award was presented to Colleen Lanigan of Orange County. For 23 years Lanigan has invested in the growth of the program to ensure that as many athletes as possible are included. When she started, Orange County offered two sports to just 26 athletes. Under her leadership the program has grown to host 18 sports programs and include more than 300 coaches and volunteers and 275 athletes! Whether organizing tournaments, coordinating with Chapel Hill Police Department on fundraising efforts, or hosting the annual banquet, Lanigan’s coordination efforts go well beyond normal working hours to allow all athletes to compete year-round in the true tradition of Special Olympics.
The 2018 SONC Organization of the Year Award was presented to Kohl’s of Fuquay-Varina. Store employees have been involved in promoting awareness and acceptance of the organization since 2017. Kohl’s employees assist with Special Olympics Harnett County’s Spring Games and cheer athletes on during regional competitions. They also participate in Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraisers and are exceptionally supportive of local Special Olympics athletes who are employed by the store.
The 2018 SONC Corporation of the Year Award was presented to von Drehle of Richmond County. von Drehle began their involvement with Special Olympics Richmond County in 2016 and immediately made a big impact. Employees volunteered at each of the county’s three local competitions in 2018 (bocce, bowling and athletics) while providing in-kind donations of food and equipment and assisting on the county’s planning committee. von Drehle also serves Richmond County athletes by securing strategic partnerships for the local program, increasing awareness in the community and bringing new volunteers and sponsors into the movement.
The 2018 Chairman’s Award was presented to Cardinal Innovations Healthcare for the company’s longtime commitment to inclusive health initiatives in the state. As a statewide funding partner, Cardinal Innovations has provided monetary support totaling more than $350,000 since 2015, significantly increasing health programming opportunities available to Special Olympics athletes across the state. Cardinal Innovations’ strong community partnership with the organization played a vital role in Special Olympics North Carolina being recognized as a Healthy Community by Special Olympics, Inc. The five-county area (Franklin, Halifax, Granville, Warren and Vance) has held four Healthy Athletes screening events and three wellness programs thanks to extensive support from Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. More than 400 Special Olympics North Carolina athletes have participated in these screenings and programs. Cardinal Innovations Healthcare coordinators have helped with athletes needing follow up care after Healthy Athletes screening events, making sure they are connected to the right providers in their area. Additionally, local staff volunteer as health event planning team members, health event day-of volunteers and wellness programming volunteers.
The 2018 President’s Award was presented to Colleen Gillan of McDowell County for her longtime dedication to expanding the sport of swimming within the Special Olympics North Carolina movement. Gillan is a key member of the swimming Sport Development Team, a group of sports-knowledgeable volunteers who work to promote, increase athlete participation in and improve the quality of training and competition opportunities for their sport. Since 2005, she has been a dedicated and active member of this team, handling coaches’ trainings, running competitions and assisting staff members with event planning. Through her work, USA Swimming now officially sanctions two Special Olympics swimming competitions held in North Carolina: the Special Olympics North Carolina Summer Games and the Special Olympics Southeast U.S. Swimming Competition. This sanctioning will assist event organizers in improving the quality of competition and officiating offered at these events.
The 2018 Billy Quick Leadership Award was presented to Mike Stone of Guilford/Greensboro. Stone has been involved in Special Olympics since 1968 when the first Special Olympics International Games were held in Chicago. Stone was one of just six North Carolina athletes who attended those first Games and is the only surviving athlete from that delegation. In his 50 years of involvement, he has served in many leadership roles, such as being a Global Messenger spokesman, volunteer, donor, and mentor to many athletes.
Earlier in 2018, Special Olympics North Carolina announced Jen Roberts, PT, DPT of High Point and Atrium Health’s Carolinas Rehabilitation of Charlotte as the 2018 Golisano Health Leadership Award Honorees for their dedication to improving the health of people with intellectual disabilities and advancing the health work of Special Olympics.
About Special Olympics North Carolina
Since 1968, Special Olympics North Carolina has used the transformative power of sports to improve the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Nearly 40,000 athletes in North Carolina inspire thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide. SONC offers year-round training and competition in 19 Olympic-type sports on local and state levels as well as health and wellness initiatives to improve the health status and increase access to community health resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Youth become agents of change through Unified Champion Schools, an education and sports-based program created by Special Olympics to build an inclusive environment among youth with and without intellectual disabilities as well as empower them to become youth leaders and create change in their community. Visit Special Olympics North Carolina at www.specialolympicsnc.com. Engage with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.