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2023 Special Olympics Virginia Award Winners

Congratulations to all of the recipients!

Each year, hundreds of volunteers and athletes contribute to Special Olympics Virginia in so many ways. Picking a few volunteers and athletes each year to recognize as outstanding representatives of the program is a difficult task. Each of these individuals stand out in their areas of contribution to the program and to the health, community, sports and education pillars on which we base our focus and strategic goals. Thank you to everyone who nominated volunteers and athletes for recognition and congratulations to our winners!

Athlete of the Year

Name: Samantha Bondurant
Area: 2
Years involved in Special Olympics: 5+

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Special Olympics is more than just sports and if you don’t believe us, just ask Samantha. In the last 5 years, she has participated as a Global Messenger, Town Hall speaker, local/Chesapeake Area Board member, volunteer and much more. She raised the roof at the 2023 Cool School Challenge at Polar Plunge, speaking about her experiences with bullying and giving the student plungers a personal perspective on the topic. On the playing field, she excels as both an athlete and teammate, breaking personal records and motivating her team with her infectious smile. She has shown her sports skills at the local, state and national level, and continues to push herself with a personal track trainer twice a week. Ask Samantha and she’ll tell you, “Special Olympics is my happy place.” Watch Samantha, and she’ll show you why. Congratulations, Samantha!

Area Volunteer of the Year

Name: Elaine Newton
Area: 15
Years involved in Special Olympics: 20+

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Elaine has been the co-coordinator for Area 15 Halifax County for more than 20 years. She is a liaison with Halifax

County Public Schools’ Central Office administration, and is key to ensuring students can participate in Special Olympics activities. For the last 2 years, Elaine has served as Area 15’s bowling coordinator, arranging the practice and competition schedule and organizing lane assignments and divisions for approximately 100 athletes from Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte counties. Elaine’s role also includes serving as a coach or assistant coach for various other sports, and she has been a Unified Partner for bocce at Area and state competitions. Elaine assists with fundraising activities including being a member of the Area 15 Halifax County Polar Plunge team. She advocates for athletes to have opportunities throughout the school year, and she supports our volunteers and families in many “above-and-beyond” ways. Congratulations, Elaine!

Outstanding Coach of the Year

Name: Andy Stromberg
Area: 27
Years involved in Special Olympics: 4+

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It all started at a Special Olympics tennis match when Andy volunteered as a ball boy in his younger years; that one experience impacted him so deeply that he proudly wore his volunteer shirt for years to come. During the pandemic when sports programs were shut down, Andy created a virtual fitness program and arranged to get fitness equipment purchased and delivered to athletes. His workout sessions included a music playlist and often ended with dance parties, all with the goal of keeping athletes engaged in a fitness routine. Since then, Andy has been heavily involved with Special Olympics Virginia Loudoun County and is one of the few coaches that came to us without having a direct relationship to someone with an intellectual disability. He believes coaching is the best way to spend his time outside of work and family, and described it as the best hours he spends all week. He is the head coach of Area 14’s eastern pickleball and tennis teams, and took his pickleball team to their first tournament last year. Naturally, they came home with gold. He described this experience as one of the most rewarding of his life, as many of the players began the season not knowing the basics of the sport. Andy continues to coach and be part of our organization because he feels rewarded by the experience. Well, the feeling is mutual Andy. The athletes of Area 14 thank YOU for coaching them both on and off the fields. Congratulations, Andy!
 

Outstanding Coach-Lifetime Achievement Award

Name: Barbara Haven
Area: 15
Years involved in Special Olympics: 39+

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Barbara Haven is at the heart of Area 15. She is a general education teacher who promotes inclusion in her classroom and in the community. She has dedicated her career to making Special Olympics accessible and possible for all athletes. She helps with transportation, assisting with day-to-day activities by connecting athletes to appropriate community resources; she assists them with paperwork; and she coaches. In addition, she continues to participate at regional, state, national and world level games. At these events, she makes connections and brings that knowledge back to the local program. She strives to make practices and events as specific to the rules as she can get, ensuring athletes are being rewarded for their hard work and dedication to the sport, versus simple participation. She runs the Area 15 program in a manner that provides respect for athletes and volunteers, while showing the community the very best of the coaches, volunteers and athletes. Congratulations, Barbara!

Family of the Year

Name: The Mooney Family
Area: 14
Years involved in Special Olympics: 4+

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Though the Mooney family came to Special Olympics Virginia with no connection to the program, they quickly became spectacular ambassadors, spreading the word of inclusion through sport. They have recruited their three grown children, neighbors, coworkers and friends to volunteer and coach with Area 14. Sean and Alison are exceptional coaches as they are organized, promote good sportsmanship, and encourage participation and team building. Most importantly, they make learning and getting exercise fun! Hugs, high-fives and smiles are routine at the beginning, during and at the end of practices and competitions. They prioritize relationship-building with each athlete, getting to know them on a personal level. They learn their likes and dislikes, family-life, work-life and more. Providing companionship to athletes encourages them to work hard as a team and to socialize with other athletes – and thanks to Sean, Alison and the Mooney family, Area 14 is one big family team. Congratulations, Mooney family!

Virginia H Foster Winning Spirit Award

Name: Jeff Erikson
Area: 14
Years involved in Special Olympics: 20+

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Jeff Erikson has been a catalyst for Area 14’s Special Olympics success for more than 20 years. His impact on programs and athletes during that time has been substantial — as a parent, supporter, program advocate, coach and Council leader. It is the enduring attitude of belonging that he helped to create and foster that is perhaps Jeff’s greatest contribution to the families of Area 14. As a Council leader, coach, volunteer and parent, Jeff has been a tireless advocate of creating a space where all can feel they belong. Jeff has promoted this in a way that focuses on both the individual and collective needs of athletes. He has worked to ensure every athlete has an opportunity to participate and grow, and also that fellow athletes have those same opportunities, individually and as a team. His goal is reflected in the team structure he promotes, particularly in the basketball program (as well as other team sports) and also the skills program. Every athlete knows they belong and are in a place where they can grow and succeed.

Teams and seasons will change from year to year, but Jeff’s personal contributions across every facet of Area 14 will stand strong — especially the environment of respect and inclusion. He is the embodiment of the Virginia H. Foster Award, and the spirit of belonging it represents. Congratulations, Jeff!

Program Volunteer of the Year

Name: Chris Pascal, LETR
Years involved in Special Olympics: 20+

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Chris has been an integral part of the Virginia Torch Run, not just in Region 3, but statewide for more than 20 years. He has served as the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office point of contact, a regional liaison, the liaison to the state chair and a member of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Executive Council. In addition, he volunteers at all fundraisers in his area from Cover the Cruisers to Tip-a-Cops to Dancing with the Athletes, a fundraiser he created almost 10 years ago. If you’re impressed by his fundraising flex, you should see him pull a plane! Every year, Chris and his team put a stronghold on the competition at Dulles Day Plane Pull - leading in funds raised and fastest pull. While leading the charge at the Summer Games swimming competitions, he makes sure his agency's tradition of giving each athlete a unique and fun name and writing "speeding tickets" for swimming fast in the pool continues year after year. Through leading by example, he has created a culture within his agency that embraces inclusion and always puts Special Olympics Virginia at the forefront of the entire department, and has set them up to support Special Olympics Virginia for years to come. His work ethic and reliability are second to none, but more importantly, he loves and respects our athletes. He creates true friendships that extend past the events and into real life. Chris is always the first to nominate others for awards, and this time, we beat him to it. Congratulations, Chris!