Kurt Nickel's love for the Special Olympics is close to home | Who's Who

Kurt Nickel A caregiving coach, or a coaching caregiver? - Brad Camp/For the Review
Kurt Nickel A caregiving coach, or a coaching caregiver?
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

It is not surprising that Kurt Nickel became involved with Special Olympics a dozen years ago in Hawaii since he had a teenage daughter with intellectual disabilities.

That’s not unusual since knowledge of people with developmental disabilities is often a prerequisite to coach or teach an activity that requires pushing oneself mentally to achieve a physical goal. But in Nickel’s case, his involvement has transcended his desire to be near his daughter.

“It started with me looking for activities for Rebecca- she’s 27 now - when we were living in Hawaii, and it continued when we moved here in 2005,” said Nickel. “She was always fond of bowling, and that got her into Special Olympic. Now she throws the shotput, among other things. For me, at least at first, it was just the appearance of being a coach, but it grows on you. Now I’m more of a coach, than not, you could say.”

Before retirement, Nickel was a nuclear engineer who spent more than 30 years working as a civilian on U.S. Navy bases in several states, including Washington and Hawaii. Now, he’s a track and field coach for the Golden Eagles, which offers sports training and competition for children (from 8 up) and adults with disabilities.

He mentions others who are fellow volunteers, such as Adam and Tiffany Kleivin, Cindy Reese, and especially Kim Goodwin and Barbara Brewis, both of whom are special education teachers. All of the island’s four coaches have been certified through a training regimen.

“The organization’s goal is simply participation and socialization,” he said, “so our job is to find out what they’re interested in, and then teach the basics and demonstrate how to do things. Some are more limited physically than others so you have to get medical input from a parent or caregiver. But for some of the athletes it goes beyond that into serious competition.”

Nickel said he has a reputation for pushing the athletes, most of whom are adults.

“I work them hard because the physical part of Special Olympics is very important and it’s really what they enjoy the most,” he said. “That and the socialization. For example, each person does the minimum of two walk/run events and one field event during our meets.”

The track and field athletes practiced for an hour on Wednesdays and two hours each Saturday at Bainbridge High School during the three-month track season. The season ends with the state meet at Fort Lewis in early June. Thanks to the many corporate sponsors and volunteers, the event is the highlight of the year.

“That’s a big deal for everyone because it’s an overnight stay in the barracks,” he said. “There’s even a dance put on by Boeing. It’s a blast for everyone involved.”

Nickel said the organization is always looking for volunteers because people move on, but if given the opportunity they often get hooked on it.

“The experience is rewarding because the people involved at all different levels are great, and they’re doing it for all the right reasons,” he said. “It sure has made a difference for our family.”

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