Stephanie Ryan: Catoosa teen Special Olympics volunteer honored with annual award

CATOOSA, Okla. - As we tune in to the action of the Olympics in Sochi, another group of athletes in Catoosa is getting ready for the USA Special Olympics Games in the spring.  Those athletes depend on a special teen Making a Difference in their lives by finding her passion.

Stephanie Ryan is running drills with her Special Olympics team at Catoosa High School.  It’s to make sure her team is ready to compete on the national level.  She’s proud of their accomplishment.

“Only high school team for flag football representing team Oklahoma!”

A friend urged Stephanie to become a Special Olympics volunteer during her sophomore year in high school.  Now a senior in high school, she’s also a certified Special Olympics coach. 

“It’s just something I fell in love with.”

Coaching Special Olympians has become Stephanie’s passion. 

Shelley Gibson is Catoosa High School’s special education coach.  She has coached Special Olympics for 22 years.  She has also helped Stephanie grow as a coach and mentor for her Special Olympians on and off the field.  Gibson said she is especially impressed by something she didn’t have to teach Stephanie. 

“She included every single one of the athletes,” said Shelley.

Because Stephanie gives so much to her team, Gibson wanted to honor her.  She secretly nominated Stephanie for the Shipman Youth Volunteer Award. 

The award is named after Stacy Shipman.  She was a tireless teen volunteer for Special Olympics who died.

Each year for the past 15 years Shipman’s family has singled out a teen with similar qualities to honor during the Oklahoma Special Olympics Winter Games. 

Stephanie was stunned when she was presented with the award.  She said it shouldn’t go to her, but to her entire team.  

She added, “You know life is really not complete unless you do something for someone else and this is my way of doing something and giving back.”

By finding her way to “give back,” Stephanie is truly Making a Difference in the lives of athletes who without her might not have a chance to play organized sports.

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