The Conway Human Development Center is sending four of its coaches to represent Team Arkansas during the upcoming National Special Olympic Games in July.
The center has four coaches that will be participating in the USA Games, which are scheduled to take place July 1-6 in Seattle, Washington.
CHDC Superintendent Sarah Murphy said she is proud of her staff members for the dedication they put into coaching and mentoring the center's athletes and other residents.
"We are so proud of our CHDC staff that are Special Olympics coaches and are going to the National Special Olympics Games to represent Team Arkansas," Murphy said Wednesday. "These coaches go above and beyond their regular job duties to volunteer their time, their weekends, their after hour time to help athletes succeed. The CHDC SOAR coaches representing Team Arkansas are thrilled to be able to go to Seattle with Team Arkansas and visualize how their efforts on the local level support the overall mission of Special Olympics at the national level."
The countless hours of volunteering for this cause holds deeper roots than merely training the athletes.
Murphy said it forms bonds between residents and staff, along with other participants, that will last a lifetime.
"They do this because they know the positive impact that SOAR has on our athletes," she said. "Practicing and competing in these games gives our residents who participate a sense of achievement and accomplishment."
Among CHDC staff traveling to the National Special Olympics Games are coaches Lisa Payne, Todd Garrett, Melissa Boyce and James Winnen.
Payne, who has coached and volunteered for the Special Olympics over the past 30 years, will be heading the USA soccer team. The 2018 National Special Olympic Games will mark Payne's fourth year to participate in the event as either head or assistant soccer coach.
Murphy said that Payne is also one of CHDC's supervising coaches.
Alongside Payne will be Garrett, who is CHDC's Special Olympics coordinator.
Garrett has been the Special Olympics coordinator for about 20 years. He has actively coached for CHDC and Special Olympics of Arkansas events over the past 29 years and will be pitching for the unified softball team during the USA Games in July.
Boyce, who is CHDC's Special Olympics assistant coordinator, will head to Seattle as an assistant soccer coach.
Participating with and training SOAR athletes has been nothing but humbling and rewarding over the years, Boyce told the Log Cabin Democrat on Wednesday.
"Special Olympics has opened my eyes to the endless abilities of our athletes," she said. "All of the athletes have taught me far more valuable lessons over the years than I could ever teach them. For myself and our team, these athletes are [a] huge inspiration. They remind us daily to keep pushing forward no matter what the obstacle you face may be."
Training athletes and acting as a mentor has built relationships that has also spread throughout Boyce's family.
Boyce has been coaching with CHDC and SOAR for 10 years. Through the years, she has learned to call many of her athletes and other residents family.
"This is not just an addition to a job, this is a passion that has lit a fire within my own sons [who] will also be going to the USA Games," she said. "Personally, Special Olympics has not only strengthened the bond within my family, but also given me a huge extended family, and for that, I am forever grateful."
Winnen, who will travel alongside Payne, Garrett and Boyce, will act as the USA Games head paddle-boarding coach.
Murphy said this year marks Team Arkansas' first year to compete in paddle boarding on a national level.
"This is [Arkansas'] first time to participate in this sport at this level and we are beyond excited to have one of our CHDC coaches leading the way," she said.
Winnen has coached for the Special Olympics for 13 years and has acted as CHDC's aquatics coach over the past 10 years.
More than 4,000 athletes are expected to gather in Seattle for the National Special Olympics Games in July. Representing Team Arkansas will be 72 athletes, 23 unified partners and 30 coaches from across the state.