Thursday, April 01, 2010
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Personality of the Week

Ryan Curry a special young man making an Olympian effort

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[April 01, 2010]  At last fall's Special Olympics basketball tournament at the Lincoln Rec Center, teams from all over central Illinois came to compete.

In one game, a visiting team had a young lady struggling to keep up with the game. She wasn't as fast as everyone else, and sometimes by the time she got down the court, action had switched and she found herself struggling to get back into the game on the other end of the court.

At one point while she was struggling, the ball rolled out to her about 12 feet from the basket. Taking it off the floor with both hands, she winged the ball into the air. One second later it went through the hoop, giving her team two points. She raised her arms in triumph as teammates flocked around her. The coach, appreciating the moment, called a timeout to let the youngster bask in a special moment longer than if the game had to continue. It was obvious this was a rare if not "never" moment in the youngster's basketball career.


As teammates jumped up and down, as happy for the young girl as she was, parents in the stands were celebrating as well. A misty-eyed mother held tight to her husband's right arm, and the father turned, telling another parent behind, "We'll have to live with this for a long time."

Turning back to his wife, he kissed her on the cheek as they both reveled in a special moment that only parents, caregivers and the special athletes themselves could understand.

These special moments happen every day in Special Olympics events, and they are what make the program so… well, so "special."

Eleven years ago, Ryan Curry found out what that feeling of helping special people felt like, and he has been the bedrock, the foundation of our local Special Olympics program ever since.

Ryan has a job selling seed and fertilizer as well as a landscaping business called Curry Professional Lawn Care. He and his wife, Kim, have three small children, Grace, Brooklyn and Isabella. That much on his plate would be enough for most young men approaching 30 years of age, but it isn't for Ryan Curry.

Ryan is the hub: the coach, the planner, the driver and the athletic director of the Lincoln Special Olympics; and the jobs keep him busy when he isn't busy being a businessman, husband and father.

Ryan said that now that another basketball season is over, track and field will begin next week. In two months softball season will begin. Then in August there will be bowling, and in October another basketball season will get under way. All of this activity is overseen by Curry, and in many circumstances, if not for Ryan's involvement, the activities would have to be canceled.

For over a decade Ryan has been involved with Special Olympics locally, but it wasn't something he planned to do.

Ryan was in high school and said that he didn't have any personal reason for getting involved with special-needs residents. He admitted he had never met anyone like that before in his life until one day while a high schooler.

As a member of the Holy Family Church, a group including Ryan went to LDC to help residents paint pumpkins. "I had such a great time, I just wanted to get involved," he said.

The summer of his high school senior year, Ryan worked as a coach, and thus began his 11-year commitment to the special people who look to the Special Olympics as their source of athletic fun and companionship.

Pat Caveny-Nye, who has been involved with Special Olympics since 1988, can't say enough about how Ryan has taken the program and how hard he has worked.

"Ryan started coaching while in high school, while I was at State School. He is the most compassionate person, an absolutely good man." said Caveny-Nye.

When Pat transferred to Logan-Mason Rehab, Ryan came also to continue volunteer working with the Special Olympics as well as working at the rehab center.

Pat says Ryan's coaching technique is perfect for the special needs athletes: "He is wonderful. The kids all love him. He never raises his voice, and he has a knack of being able to explain something so it's understood. He has such integrity for such a young man. I just don't know how to say all I feel about Ryan except that God sent him to me."

Gene Frioli, director of the Logan-Mason Rehab Center, feels as much passion for giving accolades to Ryan as Pat does. "I am thrilled that Ryan is receiving recognition," Frioli said. "While working here, Ryan did a phenomenal job, and that continues with his efforts in Special Olympics. Ryan has this addictive quality that makes his athletes feel comfortable that he is going to remain in their lives."

Frioli says that when LDC closed, employees and thus volunteers were lost for the Special Olympics program, and Lincoln could have lost the program if not for Ryan. "Ryan took over," Frioli said. "The program could have just sat or died if it hadn't been for Ryan. He has this fire in his belly to help our disadvantaged. He has this sense of what's important in his life and is so focused for a young man his age. Like I said, I am just thrilled that Ryan is getting recognized for all he does."

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At this past weekend's Polar Plunge, those involved with the plunge were delighted to add accolades for Ryan and his efforts.

Joanie Keyes, executive director of Illinois District 10 Special Olympics, said she admires Ryan's commitment. "He is a young father, he works hard, yet he gives hours upon hours to be involved with Special Olympics," she said. "I couldn't ask for a better person to be behind the Lincoln Special Olympics.

Dan Fulscher, whose Emergency Management Agency is an active sponsor in the Polar Plunge, said: "When people think of volunteers, they often think of volunteers for emergency services. But Ryan Curry sets a whole new benchmark for what a volunteer is. He is definitely a role model and someone we truly are fortunate to have living among us."

Roger Matson, owner of Action Rental and Sales, is also very active in the plunge and was voted the Spirit Award last year for all his efforts in the first Lincoln Polar Plunge. The award goes to the person who best embodies what the Special Olympics is all about. This year, Roger passed that award on to Ryan Curry. "You have to be a special person with perseverance, determination," Matson said. "You have to be special to do what Ryan does and he is."


Kevin Curry, Ryan's cousin, says Ryan is an amazing person. "He doesn't know a stranger. He just has this way with people." Greg wanted to bring in the fact that behind every great man there is also a great woman. "Kim helps a lot," Greg said. "She supports Ryan and helps whenever she can, like today at the plunge."

But Ryan needs more help than just his wife. He is committed to the 50-some athletes who call him friend as well as coach, but he knows as his own daughters get older, their activities will require some of his time.

"I really could use some help," he said. "We need coaches so that in the future if one of my daughters has a soccer game, I can go to it knowing the teams are still being taken care of."

With so much on his young shoulders, many young men would have said it was too much and walked away from the program. But that isn't in Ryan's makeup.

"If you could see the way these guys compete. The joy in their faces when they get their medals for competing, the happiness it brings them. It's worth a million bucks," said Ryan.

"They show up after a day's work to practice, and they have these huge smiles on their faces. They already have had a long day, but they still practice hard. They just know how to enjoy life." Ryan added.

We agree that those special athletes do know how to enjoy life and the games they play. And we know it is directly because of the commitment of one young man, Ryan Curry.

It is because of Ryan's determination to help others that we are proud to make him our Personality of the Week.


Editor's note:

Ryan needs volunteers to help. Practices are one day a week with games on weekends. There is flexibility in when practices can be held, and the more volunteers who become involved, the easier it will be to maintain the many programs Ryan is currently handling.

To find out more about being a Special Olympics coach or volunteer, you can contact Ryan at 671-5296. The Special Olympians in our community need you to become involved.


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