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John Lair    

2014 Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year and 2016 American Health Care Association National HERO of the Year.

John Lair began coaching in Special Olympics more than 21 years ago, but knew from a very early age about the importance of sports. He remembers putting on his first uniform, earning his letter jacket, and winning two state championship trophies for the Pittsburg community. With lessons learned from sports, Lair would excel on and off the playing field. After high school, Lair decided to end his sports career and focus on obtaining his degree from Pittsburg State University and a Master’s from Missouri Southern.

While at Pittsburg State University, Lair took a recreational therapy class where the professor offered extra credit to anyone who volunteered at the local Special Olympics Spring Games. John attended and was immediately hooked, citing the experience as life changing.

He began his professional career in Pittsburg, Kansas at New Horizons in 1995 working with adults with intellectual disabilities. Most of the adults he worked with had been institutionalized from a very young age. He was more than aware that adults with intellectual disabilities often suffer isolation due to the stigma that routinely accompanies disability. New Horizons eventually expanded into New Hope Services, where Lair transitioned to be a Program Director. In 2001, he rolled up his sleeves and took on the goal of establishing a Special Olympics team in Pittsburg. His team, the New Hope Bulldogs, served as an important bridge between people with intellectual disabilities and the broader Pittsburg community.

The success of Lair’s program hinges on his view that everyone has potential and can achieve, when allowed to demonstrate their potential. Under Lair’s guidance, New Hope athletes have graduated from Special Olympics’ Global Messenger program (athletes formally trained in public speaking and advocacy on behalf of Special Olympics), and each athlete serves in a community leadership role for Special Olympics Kansas. In addition, a majority of the New Hope athletes are employed in the Pittsburg community, with Lair serving as their volunteer job coach.

Lair also established two nutritional education programs called Eat Right 4 Life and Bike-4-Life. These programs have been recognized by the state of Kansas and have inspired his athletes to improve their daily fitness and nutritional habits, leading to significant weight loss and improved health for many.

Lair was presented with the honor of being named the 2014 Special Olympic Coach of the year in a surprise ceremony on April 25 in Pittsburg, surrounded by athletes, family, friends and fellow coaches.

A certified coach in 16 different year-round team and individual sports, Lair has served as the Head Coach for the New Hope Bulldogs Special Olympics team for 14 years - he and the Bulldogs only take two weeks off from competing during the year. Last year alone, Lair volunteered over 2,000 hours for Special Olympics, in addition to his full time job.

When not coaching, Lair serves as a member of Special Olympics Kansas Board of Directors, and was the first civilian elected to Kansas Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Executive Council. He was recently appointed to the American Health Care Association as the only representative from Kansas.

Lair has received numerous local, state and national honors for his work with Special Olympics and on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities. Last year he received another high honor: being selected to serve as a powerlifting coach for Special Olympics USA. Lair will coach the 12 power lifters from throughout the U.S. who will compete at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, CA, July 25 – August 2. Lair John World Games athletes had previously served as Kansas’ head coach of powerlifting at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, and was a Special Olympics USA coach at the 2011 World Games in Athens, Greece.

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