Our Town: Special Olympian is Athlete of the Year | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Our Town: Special Olympian is Athlete of the Year

Dan Thrift

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune Phillip Sturgeon with his handful of medals from 15 years of Special Olympics competitions.

Grasping his medals in one hand, barely, Phil Sturgeon didn’t realize how heavy they are. There are too many to count, and plenty more adorning the walls of his South Lake Tahoe home, so he weighed them: 10 pounds of Special Olympics medals from 15 years of competition.

“That’s heavy; I never would have guessed,” Sturgeon said with a sly grin and a sideways look.

Kiwanis International selected Sturgeon as its K-Team Athlete of the Year for his years of accomplishments, especially qualifying for Team USA in alpine skiing for the 2009 Special Olympic World games in Boise, Idaho. The Kiwanis Club of Lake Tahoe nominated Sturgeon. He will go on an all-expenses-paid trip to a ceremony in Anaheim to receive his award and a small financial gift to help the local Special Olympics.

“I was totally shocked. It’s a great honor for Team Tahoe,” Sturgeon said. “I did it right.”

Indeed: And others have taken notice, including Kiwanis member Lori Gaskin, who nominated Sturgeon.

“When I started researching candidates, one name kept coming up over, over and over: Phillip Sturgeon,” Gaskin said. “It wasn’t so much his participation in Special Olympics, where he is an outstanding athlete, but from his moral fiber and the strength of his character, he’s so well-rounded.”

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South Tahoe High School football coach and campus supervisor Mike Gorman sees Sturgeon more as a friend than a co-worker.

“We have a running joke about Phil’s smile with a squint,” Gorman said. “We can joke around, but I also can count on him for anything. Never have I heard him complain; it’s always, ‘I’m with you, I’ll take care of it,’ and it’s done.”

“I think the world of him and the students like and respect him. He always has a positive influence on those around him.”

A press release from Kiwanis International describes the qualities for winning the award: “to recognize the remarkable achievements that people with mental and physical disabilities have made in our society.”

After moving from Alpine County to the South Shore 15 years ago, Sturgeon, 33, became involved in Special Olympics. Participating in skiing, softball, bowling and track and field, which he gave up this year to help coach the girls junior varsity softball team at South Tahoe High School.

“I learn a lot from them,” Sturgeon said. “They help me be a better player for Team Tahoe.”

Sturgeon also keeps busy with his contributions: “I can’t just lay around – I need to stay active,” he said.

And busy he is, from coaching at STHS, where he also works as a custodian, to volunteering at a variety of events, from the Lake Tahoe Marathon, Death Ride and celebrity golf to the Kokanee Salmon Festival.

“I like to be around people and make new friends,” Sturgeon said. “I like to volunteer and be involved in the community.”

He will take that ethic and knowledge with him when he travels with Team Tahoe, where he plays third base at a regional softball tournament Aug. 23 -24 in Orangevale.

“I think it will be a tough tournament, but if we make it to the medal round, I think we can get gold,” Sturgeon said.

With all those medals, and the possible addition of another, Sturgeon quipped, “I’ll have to use two hands.”