In Aug. 9 issue, Russell County NewsBy Kim GrahamRussell County News ReporterABOVE: Russell County Olympians with their medals from a recent competition, pictured above are Missy Carter, Martha Carter and Beth Stephens
At the mention of Lori Pearson's name, beaming smiles radiate from the faces of Russell County's Special Olympians Missy Carter, Martha Carter and Beth Stephens.
"Lori is a loving caring and compassionate person and they love her dearly," said Missy and Martha's mother Sue Carter.
Pearson is planner, manager, and coach for Special Olympics in Russell County but she does much more for the county's three athletes.
"She took them in her heart is what she's done," said Beth Stephens' mother Paulette Jacob.
"Her best thing is making them feel special."
Throughout the year, they train to compete in Special Olympics events around the state but Pearson also enjoys giving them birthday parties and inviting them over for cookouts and swimming at her home in Jamestown.
"We like jumping off her diving board," said Beth Stephens with a grin.
When Pearson checked into volunteering with the Special Olympics in Russell County, she discovered the county didn't have a program - so she started one.
"There is nothing more rewarding to me than working with these kids," Pearson said. "It's a joy and an honor to have those girls in my life."
Special Olympics is much more than a volunteer opportunity for Lori Pearson. It is a way of life.
"For me that's all I know," said Pearson. "I spent summers training and working with Special Olympics."
At age four, Pearson attended the first Special Olympics at Soldier Field in Chicago. She and her parents were there to cheer on her two sisters who were among the first Special Olympics athletes.
Forty years later, her family is still active in Special Olympics.
"My sisters still compete to this day," said Pearson. "My mom has display cases and closets full of Gold Medals they've won."
Russell County families have participated fewer years, but their dedication to the program is just as strong.
"I really, really believe in Special Olympics," said Jacob. "It's a total self esteem builder. I wanted Beth in it because these children need to succeed in an enriched life."
All their lives, including their coach's, have been enriched more than they ever could have imagined.
"Lori loves to play," said Jacob. "She's a kid with them. She's like their big sister."
When the team travels to out of town competitions, Lori often makes the hotel stay a pajama party. Her extra effort to make the experience memorable and fun for the girls has garnered her a special place in their hearts.
Pearson is not only training them for athletic events, she is also training them for life.
"Lori leads them on the 100% right track," said Jacob. "She gives them good advice."
Through Pearson's commitment to Special Olympics, the young women have gained a mentor and a cherished friend. Not only do the athletes maintain physical fitness but they also unveil new talents and make lifelong friendships.
"Each girl is so different but when they come together, they're like the three musketeers," said Pearson.
The trio represents Russell County at Special Olympics events across Kentucky including competition among 1,100 competitors at the Kentucky state games in Richmond this year.
"I would like to see the program grow," Pearson said. "I would take a truck load (of athletes) if I could."
Since she began the Russell County Special Olympics program in 2006, Pearson has advertised in local newspapers, radio ads and school flyers asking for participants.
Still, the Russell County team stands at three members. Pearson was surprised at the low response but not discouraged.
"If these three girls are all we have, that's great but I urge local parents to allow their kids to participate in sports the other kids participate in," said Pearson.
She says there is no cost to parents for children to participate. The variety of events and levels of competition are incredible and Special Olympics does not exclude an athlete for any level of disability.
She said Missy, Martha and Beth chose to train for competition in track, softball and bowling events.
The young Russell County women have been well rewarded for their hard work and dedication.
Missy won gold medals in the 100 meter dash and soft ball throw, Martha won a gold medal in the softball throw and Beth won a gold and a bronze medal in the softball throw and a bronze medal in bowling.
"Their determination to compete is so great," said Pearson. "Their drive to make you proud is just incredible. I'm humbled by it."
Even facing extreme weather conditions throughout the year to compete, Pearson says you never hear a complaint or a cross word from the athletes.
Pearson has devoted her time and money to see that the girls get to compete. She supplies everything from equipment and uniforms to travel expenses. This year is the first time sponsors have been solicited for the program.
The girls' mothers went out and collected donations without telling Pearson until they turned in the money to help cover expenses for this year's state games.
"I encourage people to get involved with volunteering for the Special Olympics," said Pearson. "It's such a rewarding experience. I do it because I love it."