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Going above and beyond: Thorstad recognized for distinguished service

Fergus Falls Daily Journal - 9/21/2017

Sept. 21--Jesse Thorstad is a coach, a cheerleader, a teammate, volunteer and friend. For seven years Thorstad has been volunteering with the Minnesota Special Olympics in Fergus Falls and has loved every moment of it.

His dedication, passion and generosity was recognized Sept. 9, 2017, when he was presented a Distinguished Service Award as the Outstanding Volunteer of the Year For the Minnesota Special Olympics at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

The nominees for the Special Olympics Distinguished Service Awards are nominated statewide. A nomination form is sent to a panel that sorts through them and determines who gets each award, whether it be an individual nominee or team.

Thorstad knows his friend Matt Holmquist nominated him and he was taken back.

"My initial thought was man, he must have made up a lot of stuff to get the nomination accepted, and my second thought was they must not have gotten many nominations," Thorstad said.

However, Thorstad knows there are thousands upon thousands of volunteers in the state for Special Olympics, and to be the one among them to win the outstanding volunteer award was a humbling experience for him.

"To be recognized was overwhelming, affirming and it really meant alot to me," Thorstad said. "One of the highlights of my life, definitely."

Holmquist didn't make anything up when he nominated Thorstad. He said pages could be written about all the good Thorstad does. Holmquist has seen Thorstad go above and beyond what is asked of him and in his nomination form Holmquist submitted, he said, "Jesse may not be the head of the delegation, but he sure is the heart." Holmquist said Thorstad lives to bring joy to the people around him and being a part of the Special Olympics is a great way to fulfill that life goal.

Thorstad first got involved with the Special Olympics seven years ago, at a time when he never saw himself being interested in volunteering for it. His daughter has special needs and when she started playing basketball, he had to accompany her to practices. One day, the coach was unable to make it to practice.

"And all of the other parents looked at me, because I am tall and they figured I must know stuff about basketball and asked me to coach," Thorstad said. "I sort of willingly agreed to do it and found it was something I enjoyed a lot."

The following week the coach was absent again and Thorstad stepped in. It soon became obvious that the coach was not going to be able to continue that year and Thorstad accidentally became the basketball coach for his daughter's special olympics team.

"That led to getting involved with all the activities Special Olympics offers and I got certified to coach various athletics," Thorstad said.

Now, Thorstad is a regular volunteer with the Minnesota Special Olympics and is involved year-round.

"My interest in helping with the group and connection to the athletes and families has grown into a passion," Thorstad said.

Thorstad is involved with the Special Olympics Junior team in Fergus Falls. This includes school aged and young adult athletes. The junior team offers swimming, basketball, track and field, boccie, golf, softball, flag football, bowling, equestrian and this winter, floor hockey. Thorstad coaches and plays basketball, softball, flag football and will coach the floor hockey team. He can play with the athletes, because Special Olympics sports are unified, allowing for the athletes with special needs and unified partners like Holmquist or Thorstad to play as a team.

In addition to participating in Minnesota Special Olympics, Thorstad also does the Polar Plunge fundraiser with some of his Special Olympics athletes every year. Last year he raised the most money at about $4,000.

Thorstad has also started a special needs drumline, partnering with a band teacher at the school.

Everything Thorstad does for Special Olympics and other special needs activities is for the athletes and participants.

"It's definitely the athletes that participate that makes me passionate," Thorstad said. "They are not just athletes I coach. I consider them friends and we work together, it's fun."

For anyone interested in volunteering for Minnesota Special Olympics, feel free to call Holmquist at 701-640-7498 or Thorstad at 218-205-6037 or instant message him on Facebook. Holmquist said there are plenty of ways to volunteer from coaching, being a unified partner while playing along the athletes, helping set up, bringing an athlete who wants to play or even just going to befriend an athlete.

Thorstad brings caution to those who want to volunteer, but not the type of caution one would expect.

"You have to caution yourself, because you are going to end up making lots of friends, lifelong friends," Thorstad said. "It can become an addiction volunteering for these events because the feeling you get in a sense you are helping people."

When receiving his award, Thorstad said he remembers a poignant part of his speech that speaks to what it means to volunteer for Minnesota Special Olympics.

"I made the comment that I think I feel like I receive more as a volunteer than I give to those athletes, because of the friendships and acceptance amongst the group," Thorstad said. "It's a place where you feel welcomed, loved and important .... It's life changing."


(c)2017 the Fergus Falls Daily Journal (Fergus Falls, Minn.)

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