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  • Lair, Thompson get honors from Special Olympics Kansas

  • John Lair and Aaron Thompson, both of Special Olympics New Hope, came home from the Special Olympics Kansas Summer Games in Wichita with distinguished service awards.

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  • John Lair and Aaron Thompson, both of Special Olympics New Hope, came home from the Special Olympics Kansas Summer Games in Wichita with distinguished service awards.
    Lair was recognized as Special Olympics Kansas 2012 Coach of the Year during the opening ceremonies of the games on May 31, while Thompson was honored as 2012 Program Volunteer of the Year.
    “They gave awards in five categories, which means that we brought home 40 percent of the awards,” Lair said. “Pittsburg did pretty good.”
    Special Olympics Kansas awards also honored Allan and Cathy Henderson, Topeka, as Family of the Year, Emporia’s Radio Stations as Business of the Year and Ruth Ann Bean, Overland Park, as Special Event Volunteer of the Year.
    Lair said he was very honored and very humbled by the awards.
    “There are a lot of wonderful coaches across the state,” he said. “Coaches and volunteers make this program go on. We have about 80 volunteers here and 59 certified coaches through New Hope.”
    Lair said that some coaches may do only one sport, while others may do several. He and Thompson each coach 16 sports.
    “Aaron put in 400 to 500 volunteer hours last year, and that’s a lot of hours,” Lair said.
    Thompson said that he became acquainted with Special Olympics during his sophomore year at Frontenac High School.
    “One of the teachers would take groups of students every year to the Spring Games at Pittsburg State University, and I asked her one year if I could tag along,” he said. “I just kept up with it. Then I heard about New Hope and talked to John.”
    Thompson has been employed with New Hope Services for nearly five years, serving as a house manager for a house with four individuals with developmental disabilities.
    “I work Monday through Friday and assist with their meals and daily activities, do the shopping, see that the books are in order and supervise the house staff,” Thompson said.
    On top of that he volunteers three or four days a week, for an hour or two each day, working with Lair to coach the athletes in whatever sport is in season.
    “We share our knowledge of the sports,” Thompson said. “We just got done with power lifting and getting into softball.”
    Lair said that softball has the longest season of any of the sports, running from mid-June to September or possibly even into October.
    “Our first softball year was 2002 and we didn’t win a game that year,” he said. “Last year we were second in the National Special Olympics Softball Championships. That was an awesome event last year at Oklahoma City, a great experience for the athletes to see softball on such a large scale, and they’re pushing for it this year, when the championships will be in New Jersey.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The athletes are really who it’s all about.
    “We’ve got national champions and world champions here,” Thompson said. “Our athletes know how to work hard, that’s for sure. Most of them go into it with the attitude that they can do anything they want to.”
    Special Olympics New Hope has also set a goal of helping athletes become more healthy. One such program is Bike 4 Life, started by Lair in 2009. Participants ride stationary bikes which can be pre-set to a destination within the United States. Riders log their miles and can earn a reward when they reach their goal. They are weighed weekly to record weight loss.
    Lair said that Special Olympics New Hope has just been awarded a $10,000 grant through the Kansas Health Foundation’s Recognition Grants Program to help support Bike 4 Life.
    “We’re very excited to enhance our program to serve even more Special Olympians with this grant,” Lair said. “This program is truly making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities in Pittsburg.”
    The athletes aren’t the only ones benefiting from the emphasis on health, according to Thompson.
    “As we help the athletes, we also help ourselves get healthier,” he said. “Hands down, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”

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