Kurt Zawacki is among the countless people Special Olympics has touched over the past 40-plus years. The group has provided hope, support, friendship and fun to thousands of children and adults with intellectual disabilities across the world.
Bluffton resident Zawacki, 21, has participated in Special Olympics programs since he was a little boy. Over the years he has been active in tennis, bowling, horseback riding, and track and field.
Those activities have given Kurt more than just plenty of exercise. His mother, Carol Zawacki, said they have also allowed him to make new friends and create memories that will last a lifetime.
"The socialization and the bonding with other athletes has made it so special for him," Carol said about how the group has helped her son, who has Down syndrome. "And it gives us a chance to meet other families with children that have special needs. So that's really a neat opportunity."
Special Olympics Area 8 co-director Cherie Taylor nominated the Zawacki family for the Joshua Coston Family Award for their volunteer efforts through the years. Special Olympics South Carolina presented them with the award at an annual leadership conference Jan. 22 in Myrtle Beach.
The honor is given every year to a family that works to improve lives through Special Olympics South Carolina. It is named after the late Joshua Coston, who along with his family, donated a great deal of time to the group in Columbia.
"It was an extreme honor," Carol said. "It was something that we did not expect. We didn't do this to get any kind of kudos. We just did it for love for special-needs children."
Taylor said Kurt's parents have stood right alongside him through all his years competing. They have cheered him on, chaperoned numerous events and volunteered however they could.
Kurt's father, Dan, has served as an announcer at track and field events for several years. Carol has coordinated those events. She also has sat on the fundraising committee for Area 8's largest financial supporter -- Children's Relief Fund -- for about five years.
Now that Kurt has graduated high school and is no longer eligible for track and field, he plans to volunteer his time as well.
"They kind of embody what a lot of the families do," Taylor said. "The whole family is involved."