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Community Impact

Special Olympics Alaska’s Emily Tymick Named SONA Sports Person of the Year, Credits Longtime Love for Competition

In the subarctic climate of Alaska, it’s easy to look out over the magnificent landscape and find people skating the frozen waters. Emily Tymick started playing hockey at an early age and it’s what formed her love for sports. Ice hockey and T-ball were at the forefront, but as she grew older, her focus shifted to running cross country in high school and forming a passion for basketball. “Sports were a huge part of my life growing up, I have four older siblings who were involved in sports, so I spent a lot of time watching them in sports,” Tymick says. “My exposure to sports in childhood really fueled my passion for sports to this day.”

Tymick jokingly says she “never had a dream job,” but it’s evident from an early age a job in sports or physical activity would be a path to success. While that plan shifted a little bit over the years, by the time she got to college, she was interested in exercise science. “I knew I wanted to help people,” she says with a sparkle.

A woman wearing a Special Olympics Alaska t-shirt high fives someone wearing a basketball jersey.
Tymick began her involvement with Special Olympics the way so many people do: as a volunteer, including coaching Unified basketball as a volunteer college student.

And that forged her involvement with Special Olympics. “I got involved with Special Olympics as a sophomore in college for volunteer hours for one of my classes,” Tymick says with a high-energy tone in her voice, radiating with pride. “Special Olympics Alaska Winter Games was on the list of options, so I signed up to be a scorekeeper at the Unified floor hockey tournament. The rest is history, I had a blast.”
Because of Tymick’s sports love, it was a perfect fit.

“She’s really sports-minded,” Sarah Arts, president and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska, says. “Emily has such a tremendous way of communicating with people and I think part of that is because she is so passionate about the mission of Special Olympics. She loves sports and loves how sports are used as a vehicle for inclusion.”

It seems no matter how many times we try to reword the reason, we always circle back to it. It’s a common theme that once you try Special Olympics out, you’ll get hooked. And for Tymick it rang true. Her volunteer experience kept her coming back, starting as an intern, then shifting to a manager then director and now holding the position of Vice President and COO. “[When I first volunteered], I was very surprised by the competitiveness and the sportsmanship, that’s really what kept me coming back for more,” Tymick says.

Throughout the past 11 years, Tymick has excelled in every position she has held. From her everyday job responsibilities to serving on multiple task forces developing tools and resources in coaches’ education, she continues to go above and beyond for the athletes of Alaska.

A group of three people pose for a photo. They are outside wearing heavy winter coats and the ground is covered in snow.
Tymick (center) brings a passion for and commitment to sport to her work, benefiting Special Olympics Alaska athletes, like Ayesha Abdul-Jillil (right).

“Emily is dedicated to the mission of Special Olympics and passionate about providing the best athlete experience possible,” Arts says. “She continually goes above and beyond, always putting the athletes first. She is always eager to improve and seeks out professional development opportunities regularly. She is a tremendous team player and is admired by her colleagues in Alaska and nationally.”

Long-time athlete and Special Olympics Alaska’s longest-tenured employee, Ayesha Abdul-Jillil doesn’t think there’s a better person to lead the way Tymick does. When asked how they work together, she cracks a laugh when she says “well, she’s my boss,” and talks about how because of Tymick’s love of sports and ability to always put the athletes first, she deserves every positive reinforcement that comes her way.

And during the 2024 Sport for Inclusion Business Meeting, held February 20-22 in New Orleans, Tymick received just that. After being nominated by her CEO, her peers voted Tymick the Special Olympics North America Sports Person of the Year.

“I’m really honored to receive this recognition. Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many talented, passionate, and mission-driven people,” Tymick says about the award. “So, I know there’s so many people in the movement that are worthy of this recognition so I’m very honored and proud and just excited about being involved with the movement.”

Three individuals pose for a photo. The middle person is holding a certificate.
Tymick (center) was presented with the SONA Sports Person of the Year award. Gary Cimaglia, (left) SONA vice president of sports, and Andrea Cahn, SONA senior vice president of Unified Champion Schools, presented the award.

Tymick always takes advantage of opportunities to collaborate with colleagues outside of Alaska and the Special Olympics North America Region. It has sparked imagination and ideas to “enhance the programming,” in Alaska.

Among the initiatives Tymick has contributed to are the development of the Special Olympics Alaska Local Competition Guide, the development of the 2022-2025 Sports Plan for Alaska and she oversaw the development of Unified skiing and snowboarding from a recreation model to a competitive model in Alaska. In addition, Tymick serves as a Coach Education mentor for new coach development staff throughout SONA, and was the Head of Delegation for Team Alaska during the 2022 USA Games in Orlando.

“Sometimes [Alaska] we’re way up here in the north and people forget that we’re over here,” Arts says about what the award means to Special Olympics Alaska as a whole. “Emily was just doing so many incredible things to make our Program better. She revamped our coach’s education and she really focused on partnerships. What really stands out to me is her dedication to the movement.

“It’s hard to find people who have been around longer than 10 years. There’s a lot of turnover and so that’s exciting to me she’s stuck with it.”

The award and recognition of her peers was meaningful, but for Tymick, it doesn’t change anything. She knows the work does not stop because of an award. She will continue to go above and beyond for Special Olympics athletes around Alaska.

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