By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
The St. Croix Valley Lumberjacks are closing in on 10 years of providing opportunities for athletes, but that pales in comparison to the 26 years Melody Wagoner has been involved in Special Olympics.
In honor of her numerous contributions and achievements while displaying an upbeat attitude and tireless work ethic, the Stillwater resident was presented the Special Olympics Minnesota 2009 Outstanding Female Athlete Award as part of the annual Distinguished Service Awards banquet at the Minneapolis Airport Hilton in Bloomington on Jan. 16.
The Distinguished Service awards recognize Special Olympics Minnesota athletes, coaches, volunteers, sponsors and family members for their support, time and enthusiasm for the organization.
"I was very excited to receive the award," Wagoner said. "The banquet was very fun."
Wagoner, whose involvement with Special Olympics dates back to 1983 when she attended elementary school in Wells, which is located in southern Minnesota.
The 34-year-old is a founding member of the Lumberjacks and her positive attitude – especially with younger team members – has contributed greatly to the team’s remarkable growth during the past decade.
"I’m especially proud that we have so many people who are coming in and learning how to play the sports, especially the young kids," Wagoner said. "I like to help out any other athletes who need some help – to carry on the Special Olympics and make their dreams."
Wagoner, who lives independently and works at Kohl’s in Oak Park Heights, competes in bowling, swimming, golf, athletics (track and field), alpine skiing, basketball and softball.
"I was approached by a member of the selection committee and he told me there were a lot of nominations in this field," Lumberjacks coach and organizer Kathy Junker said. "She had some pretty tough competition, but in the end she always outshines them all.
"We’re proud of all our athletes, and every one are winners," Junker added.
Wagoner, who received a standing ovation while accepting her award, offered thanks to all who have supported her through the years, including her teammates, coaches, friends and family and the many businesses and organizations for their help and assistance to the Lumberjacks.
"With the help of people like Melody, Special Olympics Minnesota is able to bring communities together," Special Olympics Minnesota president Dave Dorn said. "This award is our small way of recognizing Melody’s amazing contributions to our programs."
Wagoner is gearing up for the Area 12 skiing competition at Afton Alps on Sunday, but is also in the middle of the basketball and swimming seasons.
She previously competed with Team Minnesota in basketball at the 2007 National Games in Ames, Iowa and is an Area 12 athlete representative, a global messenger and is involved in the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program.
One of Wagoner’s proudest achievements is performing the individual medley as part of her swimming competition. Although she has been swimming since she was a kid, the medley required plenty of training to master the butterfly, backstroke and breastroke – and the transitions needed for the turns – in addition to the freestyle in that event.
"You bet," Wagoner said. "I wanted to go for it and never give up and keep on trying. I was so happy when I achieved that going for the medley because of all the hard work."
That hard work also extends to the many fundraisers the Lumberjacks hold throughout the year.
"I love doing it because you’re helping your teammates and helping them raise money for the team," Wagoner said. "I especially love it when people come by and say hi."