During EKS weekend celebrations, Special Olympics North Carolina honored long-time volunteer Marilyn Sturgill during a reception at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Boone for the great impact she has had on each of our lives and especially the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
And what a fitting weekend it was to honor Marilyn. On September 24, the Special Olympics movement around the world celebrated the second annual EKS Day in recognition and appreciation of the vision that Eunice Kennedy Shriver had by creating Special Olympics.
And as I think about Mrs. Shriver and Marilyn, I also can’t help but to think of a video I recently saw that was produced by a young person about her little brother who has Down syndrome and Autism. Watch the video here.
As you can see, it’s a powerful video that shares what this young person sees as an important role in her life —— that is to be a voice for her little brother.
Marilyn Sturgill knows how important being a voice for others is. And although ALS has taken her voice from her, Marilyn was a strong voice for people with intellectual disabilities for more than 30 years.
Marilyn dedicated her life to Special Olympics athletes and has been at the forefront of Special Olympics in Watauga County.
In 1981 she became a special education teacher, and also immediately began coaching and volunteering with Special Olympics in Watauga County. An avid Alpine skier, Marilyn especially enjoyed being on the snow teaching athletes!
In 1985, Marilyn became the Special Olympics Watauga County local program coordinator, serving in that role until 1999 – an amazing 18 years! For her leadership, she was awarded the 2000 Special Olympics NC Local Coordinator of the Year award.
Not only did she serve as coordinator and coach in sports such as Alpine skiing, athletics and swimming, she also recruited a powerlifting coach and took the first Watauga County athletes to Chapel Hill for Summer Games to show off their powerlifting skills when it was a demonstration sport in the 1980s.
Marilyn also focused on recruiting new athletes, volunteers and coaches. She generated publicity about the program and did an enormous amount of fundraising! She believed in having the athletes share their stories about Special Olympics with civic groups and sponsors!
She developed long lasting friendships with the athletes and their families, helping many of them in ways far beyond role of a Special Olympics coordinator.
Marilyn’s impact reaches far beyond the local program in Watauga County.
In 1983, Marilyn became a member of the Games Management Team for the Special Olympics Southeast Region Alpine Skiing Games at Appalachian Ski Mountain.
And in the early 1990’s when Special Olympics NC decided to add a North Carolina-only (state-level) event in Alpine skiing, Marilyn was at the top of the list for the GMT.
In 1990, when SONC created Sport Development Teams for all its sports, Marilyn joined the Alpine skiing Sport Development Team to provide advice and guidance on the development of the sport for athletes and coaches throughout North Carolina.
Marilyn was part of two Special Olympics World Winter Games. In 1989, she attended the International Winter Games at Lake Tahoe as an Alpine Skiing Coach, and in 1993, she served as an escort to parents of an athlete from Statesville who competed in Alpine skiing in Austria.
During the 1999 World Summer Games hosted in Raleigh/Durham/ Chapel Hill, Marilyn was instrumental in making all the arrangements for Boone to be the Host Town for Team Poland. The Host Town Committee she served on organized housing, entertainment, food, and transportation for the Polish delegation. I am even told that she used her influence to involve the Appalachian State University Chancellor at the time since he was of Polish descent.
But thinking back to the concept of the video mentioned earlier, certainly Marilyn has been a voice for hundreds and thousands of those with ID who did not have one. A voice that said yes, I can ski. A voice that said, yes, I can train in sports. A voice that said yes, I can tell you why I can be a part of my community.
Marilyn provided a voice for many whom most thought could not be contributing and meaningful members of our communities.
So for her dedication and leadership, Marilyn is the recipient of the 2011 SONC Jim Long Commitment to Excellence Award.
Jim was one of the founding Board members of Special Olympics North Carolina in the early in 1970s and actually established us as a legal nonprofit organization. He too provided a voice to people with ID when many would not listen. He went on to be the longest serving Commissioner of Insurance for the State of NC before his retirement in 2009.