Coach McCullick stands out by blending in

This is the third in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the Southwest Area has singled out coach Julie McCullick of El Dorado Springs as the December Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Usually when someone has made a name for themselves, or if their reputation precedes them, it’s typically because they have gone out of their way to make sure people notice them.

With Julie McCullick, it’s quite the opposite.

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Julie McCullick

As a Special Olympics Missouri coach of more than 20 years, McCullick has gone out of her way to not be singled out for her hard work on behalf of all of her athletes. She keeps her head down and powers through without needing praise or validation to continue her pursuit of making sure her athletes receive the best support possible.

She does it all for the 25 athletes at her agency – Partners In Your Community.

And that’s exactly why she’s being honored as the Special Olympics Missourian of the Month for December.

“She does not always stand out because she just blends in and sometimes the best (like her) get overlooked because they just never need to be told to do things; they just do them,” said Robin Anderson, Southwest Area Development Director. “She is good because she cares. She rarely needs much assistance because she does it correct the first time.

“She has just always been a great coach and person and that can sometimes blend in.”

Whatever needs to be done

As owner of Partners In Your Community, McCullick works with individuals with intellectual disabilities to give them the proper assistance they need to live on their own.

Some of those individuals she assists with their living situation while at work also end up being some of her athletes.

According to her PIYC employees, she’s sees that the two go hand-in-hand and she’s equally dedicated to both.

“What I think separates Julie from other coaches is that she completely enjoys the entire experience,” said fellow SOMO coach and PIYC employee Julie Deckard. “She is the boss of Partners and would not have to go at all, but she chooses not only to go, but to take care of all of the work involved without ever complaining.”

“She is never demanding or critical (of the athletes). She makes it her goal to make sure each and every one of the athletes are having a good time.”

McCullick has never been afraid to go that extra mile if she knows that it will make even the smallest difference for her athletes – or any athlete for that matter.

“She will assist with the ramp, carry balls and shoes or bags not only for our clients, but for anyone who she sees is needing some help,” said SOMO coach and PIYC employee Paulette Fishburn.

“She is there when they receive their medals and takes pictures of them to give each athlete a copy. Julie encourages anyone who is not bowling well and will stay by them to talk through it.”

An example of McCullick’s commitment to doing whatever it takes for her athletes can be seen with one particular athlete whom Deckard said “absolutely loves to bowl,” but can sometimes lose control of himself.

On the trips to and from Special Olympics Missouri events, the athlete has had several accidents, so others suggested maybe he should only go to the events close to home. McCullick doesn’t want to hear any of that.

“Julie has a very nice, pretty new truck and she puts him in her truck each time. We have had to stop several times to clean up her truck, clean the athlete and change his clothes, but she doesn’t bat an eye, she just jumps in and gets it taken care of and off we go,” Deckard said.

“I have never once seen her ask anyone else to do this. … I think that is pretty amazing, especially since she is the owner and boss of the company and wouldn’t have to ever be hands on.”

Best of the best

If Marguerite Goodwin could have it her way, she’d want every coach to be exactly like McCullick.

Goodwin’s son, Paul, 53, has been involved with SOMO since the beginning in 1971 and has been through her fair share of coaches over the year, but according to her, McCullick is the best.

“She’s just generally a very caring person and she’s real patient to try to understand and deal with not only difficult athletes, but parents as well,” Goodwin said. “She wants the events to, above anything else, be cheerful.”

McCullick takes the time to really teach the athletes and make sure they improve in every facet of their lives.

“It amazes me when they go up to bowl and the improvement the participants have made. She’s always very encouraging even if they think they can’t do it, she talks them into it,” Goodwin said. “She’s very outgoing, but not pushy. She just watches them and certainly helps them when she thinks some improvements could be made.

“Julie is absolutely amazing.”

She is who she is

According to the people closest to McCullick, it sounds like she really is everything she preaches.

“She always has a smile on her face,” Fishburn said. “She has many things planned to do with the athletes even when they aren’t (competing).”

It’s the fun-loving part of her personality that allows her to truly enjoy every aspect of coaching in Special Olympics.

“Julie is just a friendly, upbeat and caring person,” Deckard said. “She doesn’t ever hold herself above anyone else – athlete or staff.”

Most people change over time, but Deckard, who has known McCullick for 30 years and worked for her for more than eight, said she doesn’t believe McCullick has changed “at all.”

“She is the same person every time you see her. She has a big heart and is always keeping her staff’s and her clients’ welfare and safety in mind,” Deckard said. “She makes sure everyone is comfortable and having a great time.”

After 20 years of coaching bowling, basketball and track and field, McCullick said she most enjoys watching the athletes’ pride come through both on the field of competition and on the medal stands.

“I started coaching because no one in our small town was a coach and we had several athletes who wanted to get involved,” McCullick said.

“What keeps me involved is the athletes depend on me, and I don’t want to let them down.”

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SOMOian of the Month (November): Matt Krippel, Athlete (St. Louis Metro Area)

This is the second in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the St. Louis Metro Area has singled out athlete Matt Krippel of Columbia, Ill., as the November Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Most Special Olympics athletes are lucky to have the opportunity to compete in one Special Olympics World Games in their lifetime; Matt Krippel has been good enough to compete in two – Minneapolis, Minn., and PyeongChang, South Korea.

 At the age of 43, Krippel has been an athlete with Special Olympics for more than 30 years. His mother, Joyce Krippel, knows that it’s something he’s not quite ready to give up.

 “He’s 43 and I keep asking him if he’s ready to quit. And I know that’s not even an option. But I ask him, and he says, ‘No mom, I like it.’”

His Journey

Krippel began competing with Special Olympics Missouri at the age of 14, and his love for sports has blossomed throughout his involvement. From softball, soccer and basketball to swimming, snow skiing and hockey, there isn’t a sport that Krippel doesn’t enjoy. According to his mother, however, basketball is his first and true love.  This can be partially attributed to his hero, Michael Jordan.

 “He wants to come back as a Michael Jordan,” his mother said. “There isn’t one thing in his room that doesn’t have Michael Jordan on it.”

Matt Krippel is such a great athlete that he even made a Wheaties box! Sure, it was with the help of Joe Koppeis, his boss from the local grocery store in Columbia, Ill., but not many athletes have had the honor of gracing the front of a Wheaties box.

Matt Krippel is such a great athlete that he even made a Wheaties box! Sure, it was with the help of Joe Koppeis, his boss from the local grocery store in Columbia, Ill., but not many athletes have had the honor of gracing the front of a Wheaties box.

 Krippel’s first trip to the Special Olympics World Games occurred during the summer of 1991 in Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minn., where, for the first time, he had the opportunity to swim against athletes from all over the world. More than 100 countries attended, and his mother gave him fair warning about the competitiveness of the athletes he would soon face.

 “I told him, Matthew there are kids that have learned to swim before you learned to walk. You’re going to have a tough time, because they’re good swimmers.”

 Krippel performed exceptionally well, winning various medals and ribbons in his events.  He did, however, lose in freestyle to an athlete from Barbados.

 “When we got back home, he got the world map out of the bookcase and asked me to show him where Barbados was,” said Joyce. “So I showed him that little dot in the Atlantic Ocean.”

It was this exact determination and competitiveness that drove Krippel to immediately accept an invitation to compete as an alpine skier in the Winter World Games this past January, despite only 34 days of advanced notice after another athlete had to drop out due to an injury. There was no hesitation. Krippel was eager to experience a World Games outside of his own country, and his mother said he even fought through his fear of shots to do so.

 “When I took him to his doctor and she said you have to get all of these shots before you go, he rolled up his sleeves with no problem.”

 The 2013 Special Olympic Winter World Games took place in PyeongChang, South Korea, and Krippel competed in various snow skiing events, winning both a silver medal in the Advanced Slalom competition and a gold medal in the Super G competition. Despite training and competing on the Missouri side of the border, Krippel was welcomed home to Columbia, Ill., with a parade led by Columbia Police and Fire Departments; he is a hometown hero to many.

 Because of these outstanding athletic achievements, Jocelyn Diehl, SOMO’s St. Louis Metro Program Director, nominated Krippel to be inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. He was awarded the Special Athlete of the Year award on Nov. 20, 2013.

Matt Krippel, back row, far right, poses for a photo with the rest of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Other inductees included Brett Hull, Joe Torre and many others.

Matt Krippel, back row, far right, poses for a photo with the rest of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Other inductees included Brett Hull, Joe Torre and many others.

 This award, as well as Krippel’s reputation as a model athlete, was the reason Diehl also nominated Krippel for SOMOian of the Month.

 “The St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame is an amazing honor and one only few athletes will experience,” Diehl said. “So I thought this month, in which he received that award, would be perfect to spotlight Matt Krippel. He’s been involved in the program for over 30 years, so he’s gotten many opportunities to compete, but he is so humble and thankful for each one.”

Outside of SOMO

 While sports still remain Krippel’s passion in life, he is involved in many different things outside of his commitment to Special Olympics.

 Krippel lives across the street from Columbia’s local fire department, and he has been awarded the title of honorary fireman.

 “I help out a lot. I have a pager, and when the pager goes off, I respond to the firehouse,” Krippel said. “I open the fire doors, and I help the firemen get their gear and stuff like that. And then they teach me how they run stuff.”

 Krippel has also held a job at Market Place, the local grocery store, for almost 25 years. He does various things around the store such as bagging, working in produce and customer service, and cleaning the parking lot. Joe Koppeis, owner of the local grocery store, praised Krippel’s work ethic and positive attitude.

 “He’s got a great work ethic,” said Koppeis. “He really works hard, and he really cares about what he’s doing. I’ve never had him say ‘No’ to anything.”

 In addition to all of this, Krippel also finds time to work with the basketball and football teams at Columbia High School. For more than 20 years, Krippel has worked closely with the football team, and over time he has evolved into the equipment manager.

 “He’s there for all the practices, all the games,” said Joyce. “He makes sure the boys have the water cooler filled, and he’s the ball boy that takes it out to the referee. They take him everywhere.”

 Krippel loves working with the team, and according to his mother, the team adores him too.  Krippel said that they even have a nickname for him.

 “They call me Coach Kripp.”

The All-Around Guy

 Although Krippel’s success as an athlete is definitely something to brag about, his overall character is what truly sets him apart from his peers.

 “I get on an elevator in St. Louis somewhere and Matt knows someone on that elevator,” said Joyce. “We go to Wisconsin to the Dells, and he knows somebody at the restaurant. This kid has so many friends and so many contacts.”

 This alone is a testament to how likeable Krippel truly is. Those that know him best can vouch for that. He is loved by everyone and is someone who never gets angry. His mother says she’s never even heard him say he doesn’t like somebody. He is loving, caring and on constant lookout for ways to help those around him.

 Krippel also has a desire to be active all the time, hence his passion for sports.

 “Sports are so very important to him,” Joyce said. “If he isn’t playing them, he’s watching them.”

 And what about his need to be active?

 “He can’t sit down for very long,” said Joyce. “Watching a movie is out of the question. There’s too much downtime.”

The Importance

 Matt Krippel is a dedicated athlete who is loved by many, and he shows no signs of giving up his passion anytime soon. This is because of how much Special Olympics means to him and his family, as well as the direction it has given him in his life.

Matt Krippel accepts his plaque that officially announces his reputation as a model athlete and the 2013 Special Athlete of the Year in St. Louis on Nov. 20, 2013.

Matt Krippel accepts his plaque that officially announces his reputation as a model athlete and the 2013 Special Athlete of the Year in St. Louis on Nov. 20, 2013.

 “I don’t know what I would have done without Special Olympics,” Joyce said. “I don’t know what he would have done. It’s a two-prong thing: It’s not just him and it’s not just me. It’s both of us that have been affected by Special Olympics.”