By KAITLYN NAPLES
The Special Olympics of Connecticut is celebrating its 45th year of providing year-round sports training and competitions to about 15,000 athletes who have intellectual disabilities, and their partners who do not have disabilities, the Unified Sports partners.
“We are so blessed to be such a small state with people who have such big hearts,” Beau Doherty, president of Special Olympics of Connecticut said at last week’s annual Hall of Fame dinner at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
About 900 people were in attendance at the annual dinner, which honored athletes, volunteers, and individuals who have made their mark on Connecticut’s Special Olympics in the last year.
Bristol resident Mariano “Duane” Hutchison was the recipient of the Unsung Hero Award, which is given to volunteers who “work tirelessly ‘behind the scenes’” for the Special Olympics, and expect no recognition or reward.
Hutchison has been volunteering with the organization for 13 years, and is an assistant coach for the Bristol Special Olympics program. Hutchison coaches cross-country skiing, track and field and bowling, however cross-country skiing is his favorite and also a hobby of his. He and his wife Rena have been married for 13 years, and Hutchison got involved in the Special Olympics in Connecticut because Rena’s son Todd is mentally challenged and participates in the games.
When he found out he was a recipient of the Unsung Hero Award, Hutchison said he was shocked and had to read the letter twice.
“Hutchison is known for his positive, can-do attitude and for encouraging athletes and inspiring them to take pride in themselves and their accomplishments,” a press release said. He is also known for coming to practices early to prepare, and is also fundamental in helping with the organization of the local program and its fundraising initiatives.
Hutchison said one thing he always instills in the athletes he coaches is to “try their best, no matter what.”
He will continue to volunteer with the Special Olympics for as long as he is able to, the almost 73-year-old said, and continues to do it because of the “smiles on their (athletes) faces” and when he sees them accomplish a challenge.
“They are so happy with whatever they achieve,” Hutchison said. “It is just so wonderful.”
Recently, Tonya Hall of Bristol competed in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Her brother was stationed with the Army while she and her family were there and was able to visit with him. Hall came home from the world games with a gold and silver medal in cross country skiing.