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Stonich’s Long Journey with Special Olympics Leads to Memorable Moments

Written by: Erin Holloway, Special Olympics Colorado

The Special Olympics North America Athlete Storytelling Training Series brought seven athletes from the US and Canada together to improve their storytelling and journalism skills. Over six months, athletes put lessons into action as they researched, interviewed individuals for, wrote, and edited a feature story. This is one of those feature stories.

Rick Stonich’s Special Olympics Colorado journey started 23 years ago when he lived next door to an elderly couple who housed two people with intellectual disabilities. Stonich said this inspired him to get involved with Special Olympics Colorado. “I said (to them) I wanted to do some volunteer work, how about Special Olympics? So that’s how it all started,” Stonich, now a Unified partner and coach, explained.

A group of six Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners pose for a photo in front of a banner that says Special Olympics.
Rick Stonich and Erin Holloway (center) have been Unified partners for more than two decades. They train and compete alongside each other in golf.

Stonich’s favorite sport is golf as he finds the challenge of the sport very rewarding, especially when he hits a great shot. He also enjoys the competition and camaraderie with the athletes. "I have a good background in golf, I wanted to be able to coach athletes and teach them the game, not just be a Unified partner,” Stonich says.

In preparation for his role as a coach, Stonich worked with a golf pro with the hopes of gaining the necessary skills and techniques that would help him teach golf to Special Olympics athletes. He quickly realized the incredible talent found among Special Olympics golfers.

A Special Olympics athlete and Unified partner stand on the awards podium, proudly wearing gold medals.
Rick Stonich (second from left) has enjoyed volunteering as a coach and competing as a Unified partner in golf alongside Special Olympics Colorado athlete, Erin Holloway (third from left).

On top of coaching, he is also a Unified partner in golf. As a Unified partner, he enjoys the regional and state games. And as does every athlete, he enjoys the rivalries with the other teams. He also enjoys winning and sharing his experiences with family and friends.

While he still is involved today, his proudest moment dates to the very first USA Games, hosted in Ames, Iowa in 2006. He and his partner won a gold medal in Unified golf. “I was over the moon excited when I first found out about being selected for the first USA Games. I also felt privileged to be able to go, it was a real thrill to compete against such strong competitors,” Stonich says about the emotions of winning gold in Iowa and the overall experience.

Stonich says his involvement with Special Olympics has been really rewarding. “It’s a kick, there have been a lot of good memories and competitions,” he said.

For Stonich, the most meaningful part of Special Olympics is the satisfying feelings it brings him when volunteering and working with the athletes. He also believes it’s important to continue to spread awareness about Special Olympics, especially the large variety of sports offered year-round and the additional programming available in health, education, and leadership.

Stonich hopes for Special Olympics to continue to grow so people are more aware of the fantastic abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. He hopes his involvement might inspire others to want to become involved as a coach or volunteer.

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