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: Kaitlin Dykes
Years involved in Special Olympics: 10
Kaitlin Dykes has been an athlete with Special Olympics Virginia since 2013. She actively participates in soccer, cheerleading, basketball, track and field and softball at the local and state level. Kaitlin loves engaging so much that she was helping to produce videos and presentations on behalf of the Polar Plunge and the Cool School Challenge before she was a Global Messenger.
Trust us, her interview skills are now pro level. Kaitlin is always looking for the next opportunity to share her message of joy, acceptance and inclusion – a true, natural influencer. She is an active member of her church and community, a friend on and off the fields, but most importantly, a leader for us all.
Area Volunteer of the Year
Name: Marcus Leggett
Years involved in Special Olympics: 10+
Marcus Leggett has been involved in Special Olympics Virginia for more than ten years. In
addition to coaching flag football, basketball, powerlifting and track and field, he also has been the Area volleyball coordinator and helped to initiate three additional sports in his area. He stays slightly busy. During the pandemic, Marcus made it a mission to keep athletes active with virtual fitness and wellness activities through Zoom by hosting workouts two to three times per week. No excuses, right Coach Marcus?
His connections in the community have led to several successful fundraising efforts for Area 2 and as if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also was instrumental in organizing the SOVA Invitational Flag Football Tournament in Fall 2022 and then organized a MedFest this spring to ensure Area 2 athletes have what they need to get on the fields and win. It’s easy to see just how amazing Marcus Leggett truly is. Thank you, Coach.
Outstanding Coach-Rising Star Award
Name: Olivia Kurzeja
Area 14 Loudoun
Years involved in Special Olympics: 6
When you think of volleyball in Loudoun, there’s one name that shines – Olivia Kurzeja. For the past 6 years, Olivia has brought her outstanding organizational skills and contagious smile to the courts, ensuring our athletes have a great time as they master the sport of volleyball. Olivia is a model of good sportsmanship, teamwork and has even implemented a buddy system at practices, giving each athlete a dedicated
support person to help them improve skills and encourage development. Everybody needs somebuddy sometimes, right? She uses enthusiasm to lead practices, motivating athletes to thrive off her positivity. With a heart like hers, her spirit animal is most definitely a Care Bear. Three cheers for Coach Olivia!
Outstanding Coach of the Year
Name: Sandra Chamberlin
Years involved in Special Olympics: 15
Sandra Chamberlain has worn many hats during the last 15+ years. Not only has she been an integral part of the growth of the Area 27 basketball program, but she also loads up her teams and attends tournaments as well. Her
dedication to organization and detail has led her to take charge as both the Area Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator for many years. Between reviewing eligibility lists and showing how to make 3-pointers, she somehow finds time to recruit new volunteers, constantly sharing our mission. Sandra has a magical talent for managing multiple athletes at a time while still giving each athlete the time and attention they deserve. How does she do it? Sandra, will your magic wand be sold at souvenirs?
Outstanding Coach-Lifetime Achievement Award
Name: Marjorie Gray
Years involved in Special Olympics: 38
Guess how many sports Marjorie has coached during her 38+ years at SOVA? Nine! From Alpine Skiing to Zumba, she encompasses all that is dedicated coaching. She has made significant contributions in building, maintaining and expanding athlete and
volunteer opportunities in one of the largest programs in Virginia. Coach Gray has been described as the ultimate connector, constantly linking families and athletes to the program. She engages and motivates athletes through sports and teaches them about life, employability skills, sportsmanship, character development, advocacy and inclusion. A parent in the program said it best; “Before meeting Coach Gray, my child did not have any friends and I didn’t have anyone to talk to who understood him or our family dynamics. Not only does she teach our children to play sports, but she also connects people, inspires and encourages us, and is always there for all of us.”
Family of the Year
Name: The Stern Family (Matt, Rose Ann, Danny, Joey, and Vinny)
Years involved in Special Olympics: 6+
Six amazing years of the Stern family is just not enough. With Rose Ann and Matt leading the
charge as dedicated leaders and volunteers in the Manassas area, the Stern family lives and breathes Special Olympics with sons David, Joey and Vinny, doing their part to bring home gold. Their greatest impact shows in the growth of the number of athletes, volunteers and programs at the Area 23 level. Off the fields, the Stern family is very involved in their local Scouting community and active in their school district’s special education community. They are a model of kindness, generosity and selflessness and we can’t help but get warm fuzzy feelings anytime they are near.
Virginia H Foster Winning Spirit Award
Name: Dan Dillon
Years involved in Special Olympics: 40+
Dan has been passionate about Special Olympics from the start and is quick to point
out that he should be thanking the athletes for all he has received over the years and not the other way around. For the last 40+ years, Dan has served as not only a coach of 7 sports, traveling to tournaments and organizing practices, but also has shown his dedication in another way: off the field. He supports athletes in troubling times by improving their life, whether that means helping with housing, health, food or transportation. Dan has dramatically impacted the lives of countless Special Olympics Virginia athletes, parents and volunteers. Dan Dillon, coaching lives with a side of coaching sports.
Program Volunteer of the Year
Name: John Martinez
Years involved in Special Olympics: 6
You know that feeling when you see a really good Special Olympics Virginia photo and get goosebumps? Chances are John Martinez made
that happen. John generously volunteers his time to capture our best moments, allowing us to share the power of what we do with the world. You can often find John and his cameras at Fall Championships, Basketball Championships and Polar Plunge, zooming in and out, finding the best angle of every gold-winning smile. His ability to give goosebumps through photo and video stories is unparalleled. Have you seen his work from the 2022 USA Games? Of course you have, what are we thinking? John, your press pass is for life.