While athletes are at the heart of our organization, our volunteers are its backbone. That’s why each year at State Summer and State Fall Games, Special Olympics Florida honors the coaches who have inspired others to reveal their inner champions. Called the Inspirational Athlete & Coach award, it is a chance to celebrate the dedication and passion that our volunteer coaches bring to Special Olympics Florida.
Coach Lenora Deonath from Marion County
In the ten years since her son began competing, Lenora Deonath has dedicated her time to improving the lives of Special Olympics athletes. Lenora has numerous sports under her belt, including Bowling, Aquatics, Basketball, Golf, Softball, Volleyball, Cycling, Athletics, and the newest – Stand-Up Paddle. Lenora says her favorite part of Special Olympics is working with athletes, teaching them new skills, and practicing with them throughout each season. She’s considered a competition veteran, having been to the State Summer Games four times. However, this year was her first time as head coach of the Volleyball team and as Lenora explains, “each time at State Summer Games has been a unique experience”. Special Olympics has drawn Lenora’s family together, allowing each member to support one another whenever someone needs it. As Lenora mentions, “Special Olympics has been the best thing to happen in my life, not just because of my son but because all the athletes that I get to work with.”
With a decade of memories already behind her, Lenora has a single favorite moment that she easily recalls. Following a cycling competition, as her son waited to line up for the results, she could already see the joy on his face. “Out of the seven competing athletes, he had pedaled his way to a gold medal and was beaming with pride. I stood there taking pictures and crying, knowing that for the first time he was truly experiencing his first real life moment of accomplishment. I will never forget that day.”
Coach Savannah Flemming from Brevard County
Savannah began participating in SOFL in January of 2014. As a volleyball player in high school, she was advised by one of her coaches to get involved with Special Olympics Florida and didn’t hesitate to do so. Having a strong background in volleyball, Savannah coached her very first Special Olympics volleyball team while coaching Eau Gallie High School’s very first volleyball team. Savannah believes that coaching a Special Olympics team is an experience like no other and that the most rewarding part is watching her athletes and Unified Partners compete and have fun while doing it. She says that there is no better feeling than the one she gets watching her team’s excitement after every point scored or after every good play.
This year was her first year going to the Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games and Savannah was blown away by the experience, describing the games as nothing short of amazing. Savannah’s favorite memory from the weekend event was watching her team as they arrived at ESPN Wide World of Sports – the looks on her team’s faces were priceless and the excitement they all shared was something she will never forget.
Coach Tyler Jarvis from Wakulla County
Tyler Jarvis only began coaching for Special Olympics Florida in 2013 when the Assistant Principal at the school where he works presented him the opportunity to help with the local Special Olympics Flag Football team. Since then he has helped the Flag Football and Athletics programs grow considerably in Wakulla County, and hopes to start a Softball team soon. Tyler’s main inspiration for coaching is the bravery of the athletes on and off his team. Through Special Olympics, Tyler has not only strengthened his relationship his athletes as they work together to improve their lives through education, competition, and opportunity, but he also feels that athletes bring fulfillment into his life with their happiness, bravery, and achievement.
Coach Maria Pazmino-Collins from Pinellas County
Maria Pazmino-Collins discovered Special Olympics after a teacher recommended that her daughter try out for the swim team. Sixteen years later, Maria considers the athletes, coaches and friends she’s made through Special Olympics as members of her extended family.
As a Soccer and Aquatics coach, Maria also helps athletes who train for Bowling competition and looks forward to possibly coaching Powerlifting. Maria’s life has been inspired by Special Olympics as she continues to savor each moment of triumph as her athletes find joy in winning, build friendships and are accepted for their incredible ability rather than being seen for their disability.
Each year Maria has had the chance to attend State Summer Games with her athletes to compete she is overwhelmed with happiness and pride – win or lose, she loves every minute of being a coach. She credits her athletes with showing her what it means to be strong and find the courage to do things she never thought were possible saying that, “I have been inspired by my athletes and other coaches; Special Olympics has made me a better person.”