A Juneau family was recognized for their outstanding service to the Special Olympics on Wednesday.
Chris, Michelle and their 24-year-old son CJ Umbs were named family of the year at the second annual Breakfast With Champions event at the Special Olympics Alaska Sports, Health and Wellness Center in Anchorage.
In addition to the Family of the Year Award, the organization serving more than 2,000 athletes across 11 communities in the state handed out awards for athlete of the year, coach of the year, school program of the year, sponsor of the year and volunteer of the year. The Ed Stauber Award and the Jim Balamaci Legacy Award recognize other leaders in the Special Olympics movement, which has been going strong for 50 years.
Chris and Michelle joined Special Olympics 16 years ago, when CJ was just 8 years old, and have remained active in Special Olympics ever since. Michelle has been Juneau’s swim coach for about the last 10 years, and shoulders fundraising and recruiting responsibilities for the team. Chris helps organize the Law Enforcement Torch Run, an annual fundraiser for the Special Olympics.
The proud parents have watched CJ pile up mounds of medals from years of competing in the Summer Games in Anchorage. In June, CJ won golds in the 400-meter freestyle and 200-meter backstroke along with a pair of silver medals.
“We are very humbled and grateful for the award,” Michelle said by phone on Wednesday.
Special Olympics Alaska President/CEO Nicolle Egan was on hand at the ceremony. Egan said families — and more generally, volunteers — are the drivers behind practically everything the organization does. She said family members sometimes remain active in Special Olympics for decades because their son or daughter is never too old to compete.
Egan called the Umbs family “a great representation of all the families across the state that make this program happen.”
In smaller communities like Juneau and Ketchikan the entire Special Olympics program is volunteer-run, Egan said. Families take on, “coaching, fundraising, recruiting for new people, everything,” Egan said.
“The local program is where it’s at, that is where all the work is being done,” she said. “That’s the most important component of Special Olympics is the local program.”
Other notable award winners include Anchorage’s Joe Pichler and Darci Owens, the co-athletes of the year.
Pichler, now in his late 50s, has “probably done every sport that we’ve ever offered” and has served as a floor hockey official, Egan said. Owens is an advocate for the health benefits of the Special Olympics and a floor hockey player.
Hal Lloyd earned coach of the year honors. The longtime volunteer coaches Anchorage powerlifting athletes. As the owner of Southside Strength & Fitness in Anchorage, Lloyd provides a safe and welcoming environment in which Special Olympics athletes can train, Egan said.
The Jim Balamaci Legacy award was given to former Sen. Ted Stevens’ family and the Ted Stevens Foundation. Egan said Balamaci, the former president of Alaska’s Special Olympics who passed away earlier this year, worked hand-in-hand with Stevens to promote the organization.
“His award is truly about having a vision and making things happen in your state, making things happen for individuals,” Egan said. “He and Sen. Stevens were good friends. We like to say, like Sen. Stevens shaped who Alaska is today, Jim helped shape who Special Olympics Alaska is today and who our athletes are. They both have put us in a position to really be able to move things forward and just keep getting more people involved.”
President/CEO Award Recipients
Athletes of the Year: Darci Owens and Joe Pichler
Coach of the Year: Hal Lloyd
Family of the Year: Umbs family
School Program Partner of the Year: Alaska Department of Education and Early Development
Sponsors of the Year: Matson and Alaska Airlines
Volunteer of the Year: Jack Eppley
Ed Stauber Award: Alaska Law Enforcement Torch Run
Jim Balamaci Legacy Award: Sen. Ted Stevens family and foundation
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.