Balancing act

ATSSA member successfully juggles work and Special Olympics

Article July 19, 2002
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Tim Cox was selected for his work with Special Olympics by
Scranton Gillette Communications and the American Traffic Safety Services
Association as the recipient of the first SGC/ATSSA Members Humanitarian Award.
Cox is southwest region sales manager for Cataphote Inc., a Jackson, Miss.,
maker of specialized glass beads and thermoplastic pavement markings.

Cox got started with Special Olympics way back in 1977. His
first task was to keep score at the Missouri Special Olympics championship
basketball tournament.

He was a member of the Blue Springs, Mo., Jaycees at the
time and volunteered to help. Eventually, he was helping organize the annual
event.

“It was the first time I was ever around any
athletes,” Cox told ROADS & BRIDGES. “It was a very rewarding
time watching the athletes perform and grow and the effect they had on the
family and on the town.”

Blue Springs is a city of about 50,000 people.

“The town since has adopted that event as one of the
things that our city identifies itself with. Every March we have a weekend
where we bring 1,200 athletes and have four or five hundred basketball games in
a three-day period. It’s something that involves the whole
community.”

The school system and the city government both cooperate
with the organizers, and Special Olympics uses most of the gyms in the school
system sometime during the weekend for holding games.

The city also supports the tournament with funding to help
cover the cost of travel, housing and meals for the athletes.

“In Special Olympics, the athletes never have to pay
anything to participate,” Cox pointed out. “So it’s incumbent
on us to raise funds for housing and food while they’re at an event and
transportation to the event. Those are things that we provide the athletes, and
the people of the town have been really supportive.”

Cox remembers one athlete in particular from that time:
“He was playing on one of the teams in the gym in which I was keeping
score. We struck up a conversation a couple of times during the event. I worked
that same gym the next two years and saw him continue to grow as a
player.”

About five years later, Cox was on business in St. Louis,
where this athlete lived. Cox pulled into a Denny’s to have a cup of
coffee before visiting an account. “Here he comes in with his lunch pail,”
recalled Cox. “He was on his way to work. He had gotten to the point
where he was living on his own and was supporting himself.

“But the wild thing was about three years later he
came as assistant coach of the team he had been a member on about 10 years prior.
That was pretty exciting. We’ve got a lot of athletes that are helping
coach the teams in the various sports. That kind of growth of the individual is
something that makes the whole thing worthwhile.”

 

Social and motor skills

Growth of the individual is part of the Special Olympics
mission. The program offers a chance for mentally retarded people to
“develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and
participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families,
other Special Olympics athletes and the community,” according to Special
Olympics.

To qualify for Special Olympics, a person must be at least
eight years old and have mental retardation, cognitive delays or significant
learning or vocational problems. Because there is such a wide variety of ages,
the athletes are placed in age divisions. They also are placed in ability
divisions based on an assessment of their individual skills.

The athletes have an opportunity to compete at the local
level and from there at the regional, state and international levels. Special
Olympics holds summer and winter games every four years, the year before the
other international Olympics. The next Special Olympics World Summer Games will
be held in Dublin, Ireland, June 20-29, 2003. The next Special Olympics World
Winter Games will be held in Nagano, Japan, Feb. 26-March 5, 2005. The first
Special Olympics World Games were held in Chicago in 1968.

The Missouri organization is planning to send 25-30 athletes
to the next Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin. Cox plans to be
there with them.

The trip will cost money, and the organization is busy now
to make sure the expenses will be paid. The athletes will even have a few days
for sightseeing in Ireland before the competition begins.

The Special Olympics oath reads: Let me win. But if I cannot
win, let me be brave in the attempt.

In Cox’s words: “It’s great to see how the
athletes can develop and become what they weren’t. They used to be shut
away, and now they can have more full lives. Watching that growth is
what’s really good.”

Teamwork adds to the benefits of competition. Cox mentioned
that when the program was founded in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver,
professionals thought the athletes would have difficulty working as a team.

“Working as a group seems to make a big
difference,” Cox related. “I got into the program involved in a
team sport, basketball, and they’ve continued to respond to that effort.
They all seem to be able to grow, and competition seems to help them.”

 

The big break

Much of Cox’s time with Special Olympics has been
spent helping raise money.

“One of the things about being in sales is
there’s a little bit more flexibility,” he said, “so that I
can move my time around a little bit.”

That flexibility has been important in allowing Cox to
devote time to his Special Olympics activities. It gives him the freedom to
choose.

“Mostly, the free time I have has been filled with
Special Olympics and then with family activities. It’s choosing to take the
time and spend it with the athletes and the people in the program.”

Cox spent 13 years on the board of Missouri Special
Olympics, two of them as chair. The Missouri Special Olympics organization has
about 12,000 athletes in the 26 Olympic-type sports, 4,000 volunteers and an
annual budget of about $4 million.

He started out primarily in fund raising and moved into
board development and membership recruitment. One creation of his was a golf
tournament that raised about $60,000 over four years.

Although he left the board three years ago because of a term
limit, he is still active in a group of past board chairs. He also still does
fund raising by visiting major donors. And he is starting work with a
consulting group in the area of board member development. He’ll be
assisting other Special Olympics boards, especially in Latin America, as an
advisor.

One thing Cox gets out of his participation in Special
Olympics is a break from the demands of work: “None of the pressure of
the activities of work are involved when I’m working on a Special
Olympics activity or event. They’re separate, so it’s a complete
break and it allows a release from the normal stress that comes from work.

“On the family side, from time to time I’ve had
a chance to bring the family in as part of it,” he continued, “so
we get to do it as a group. Watching how the athletes interact with their
families kind of re-confirms why we all have that family bond.”

Enthusiasm is infectious, and Cox’s enthusiasm
sometimes spreads to his family. His daughter got involved while in college as
the activities person for the business fraternity at the University of
Missouri. She and her fraternity helped stage a couple of the events there.

“That was kind of neat to see her get involved,”
Cox said. “They’ve all helped some when we were working with the
basketball event back in the early ’80s.”

Along with Special Olympics, Cox is active in ATSSA.
He’s a past member of the board of directors and a current member of the
board of the ATSSA Foundation as well as a member of various other committees
and task groups.

People from ATSSA also have participated in Special Olympics
fund-raising events, mostly in the form of jumping into ice-cold lakes. The
police force in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., hosts a “polar bear
plunge” every year, in which people raise money for charity by jumping
into the lake in the middle of winter. Several ATSSA members have risked
frost-bitten toes for the sake of Special Olympics.

 

Spreading the enthusiasm

Cox appreciated receiving the SGC/ATSSA Members
Hu-manitarian Award, but he appreciated more the chance to share his enthusiasm
with the full ATSSA membership at the banquet in February when he was presented
with the award.

“Most of my activities are known kind of on a
one-by-one basis, but to be able to speak to the full ATSSA family, that was
probably the highest part of the honor,” he said.

His advice for ROADS & BRIDGES readers? “If you
have an opportunity to attend a Special Olympics event, you’ll walk away
charged and thrilled and uplifted by the effort and the pure competition that
the athletes put out. It’s what sport is all about.”

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