Nash honored for Special Olympics efforts

Terry Nash said her career is driven a long-held desire, to help a group of unique athletes.

"I've always had a passion for special-needs kids and adults," said Nash, Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator for Henry County Parks & Recreation. "So, it's just something I guess I was born to do."

Recently, at the Special Olympics Indoor Winter Games in Cobb County, Nash received the "Outstanding Local Program" award from Special Olympics Georgia for her efforts in Henry County.

The Special Olympics Georgia award marked the second time in recent months, that Nash, 42, has been lauded for her work in the program. Late last year, she received the Buster Dickerson Award from the Atlanta Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities.

The Dickerson Award, named for a former volunteer at Atlanta Motor Speedway, was given to Nash last December, during a holiday party at the raceway.

"I was very shocked ..." Nash said. "I received that award just doing what I do, so I was very humbled it, and very surprised."

The Special Olympics has been active in Henry County for 23 years, and serves 150 athletes, according to Nash.

The Indoor Winter Games, Nash continued, were a success for kids and adults in her program.

"We came back with several medals, [and] a lot of smiles," she said.

"We have taken athletes to Winter Games for over 15 years," she said. Eighty-one athletes accompanied her this year. "We take our athletes to seven different major competitions a year with the state of Georgia. What we do here on a daily basis is ... train those athletes for competition.

"We also have a strong wheelchair sports program we are proud of, and we are continually seeking funds for this program as well," continued Nash.

Harlon Matthews works as a therapeutic recreation specialist for the county parks and recreation department, and coordinates the wheelchair-sports program. He commended Nash's commitment to local special athletes, and for receiving the Buster Dickerson Award.

"She's very dedicated and passionate about what she does, so the award, to me, is a no-brainer," said Matthews. "She's earned it. She doesn't do it for the award. She does it with a very good heart."

Rhonda Stamey, an Atlanta Chapter board member for Speedway Children's Charities, described Nash's leadership and enthusiasm for Henry's special-needs community as invaluable components for Special Olympics programs.

"She brings many volunteers, and is always cheerful and willing to assist with any task," said Stamey in a written statement. "Her unwavering devotion to the community exemplifies the character that symbolizes the Buster Dickerson Award."

Nash added that a group of volunteers with the program, acts as "unified partners" for the athletes she serves.

"A unified partner plays with [a] Special Olympics athlete as a partner, to help the game be more meaningful for the athlete, and also helps them with socialization and self-esteem," she said.

Connie Dodgen is a unified partner in Special Olympics with her daughter, Melissa, and has been a coach for the Special Olympics in Henry previously. Dodgen said Nash has a "huge heart for people," and has been an asset to the program.

"Her knowledge and experience is beyond anything I've ever seen," Dodgen said. "I feel that God has given her this talent, and Henry County is very blessed to have her."

Nash began cultivating her interest in the special-needs field, when she was 15 years old, working part-time at Clayton County Parks & Recreation. She was a therapeutic recreation coordinator in Valdosta, Ga., for 10 years, then worked with Special Olympics Georgia for three years, before coming to Henry County.

Nash will take 12 Henry athletes to a Southeast Skiing Competition in North Carolina this weekend.

"They train for a day, and then they compete in their specific-level, alpine skiing," Nash said. "When we get back, we will begin training for our summer events which are volleyball, athletics, swimming, soccer skills, [and] table tennis."

Nash credits area residents, with a large part of Special Olympics' success.

"We definitely have a lot of local support here in Henry County," Nash said. "There's no way that we could do as much training, and be able to attend as many conferences, as we do without the local support from Henry County — a lot of anonymous donors, a lot of donors that give and support our program each year."

For more information about the Henry County Special Olympics or Therapeutic Recreation programs, visit www.hcprd.org/therapeutic.