Fresno Swimmer Honored as Kiwanis’ “Special Olympics Athlete of the Year”

Special Olympics Swimmer Kathy of Fresno was awarded the Kiwanis Cal-Nev-Ha Foundation’s “Special Olympics Athlete of the Year” award for her outstanding performance and dedication to the community.

“It felt pretty great,” said Kathy. “I love to swim. I love the people. And it’s just a lot of fun.”

Kathy has been involved with Special Olympics for more than 45 years and has competed in swimming and skiing. Last year, she joined Team NorCal at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and earned two gold medals and one silver medal. She was also featured as a part of the USA Games on ESPN.

“It was really thrilling,” she said. “My coaches [Jenn Wilson and Tod Pickett] were so fantastic.”

Kathy has excelled in the pool for decades – but, according to her twin sister, Karen, it initially took an extra loving ‘push’ to get her started.

“My brother and I were competitive swimmers growing up from the time that we were five,” said Karen. “Kathy always wanted to do it, too. In high school, I worked with [students with intellectual disabilities] and in those days, we got in the pool with the athletes. Kathy would stand on the side all the time and wouldn’t go in – she just wouldn’t go in. I knew that she wanted to do it, but she was not a person that liked change. So finally, I picked her up and threw her in with all of her school clothes on.”

And from then on, Kathy loved the water.

“But at the time, she was mad – and it was a very long walk home,” Karen explained with a laugh.

In addition to her participation with Special Olympics, Kathy is employed and is a key member of the Charis Community Aktion Club, which provides adults living with disabilities with opportunities to develop initiative, leadership skills and serve their communities. Kathy has been a member of the Aktion Club for more than 12 years, is a past distinguished president and currently serves as the club’s secretary. The East Fresno Kiwanis Club sponsors the Aktion Club and supports Special Olympics through a number of avenues throughout the year.

Kathy received the “Athlete of the Year” award recently at a ceremony in Las Vegas. Now back home, she is showing no signs of slowing up with her busy schedule and especially her commitment to Special Olympics, which Karen credits for keeping Kathy healthy and happy.

“This is entirely her life,” said Karen. “She lives for her swim season and her ski season. That’s absolutely her pride and joy.”