Dakota’s Legacy: A Special Olympics Tribute

This year marks SAL’s first year partnering with Special Olympics as members across the country joined together to “Sponsor an Athlete” for this summer’s World Games taking place in August. It was discovered very quickly in the process that this initiative meant a great deal to many members who had personal connections and experiences with the Special Olympics in their own lives. One such member with a heartwarming story is Nick Karn, a former SAL President with the University of Nebraska Lincoln Chapter.

Nick and his family know first-hand the amazing impact that the Special Olympics can have on the athletes and their families. Nick’s brother Dakota was a Special Olympics athlete who passed away in 2012. He was an inspiration to his family, friends and the entire community in his hometown of Grand Island, NE. Dakota was the youngest of four boys in his family. His parents and older brothers all played sports and he was just as competitive, so Dakota’s parents signed him up for the Special Olympics at a young age. He instantly fell in love with the Special Olympics and was involved with them up until the day he passed away.

After his brother’s passing, Nick became a teacher with Carmel Middle School in Colorado Springs, CO in 2013. There, he teaches social studies and also holds a Special Education certification. He became aware that his students loved to help in their community but didn’t have an outlet to do so. Nick helped to connect the students to the Special Olympics since it was an organization close to his heart. Carmel Middle now regularly supports the Special Olympics by hosting various annual events and participating in fundraisers.

Carrying the Torch for Dakota

Through a family at his school, Nick found out about the Special Olympics Torch Run. The students at the school raised funds for the Torch Run and Nick was able to carry the torch through Colorado Springs on June 25th – the day after Dakota’s 18th birthday. According to Nick, “It was an amazing honor to carry the torch in Dakota’s memory and to participate in this amazing event. As I was carrying the torch, I was almost in tears. The flame, to me, represents the spirit of every single Special Olympics athlete in the world. It represents my brother’s spirit and memory along with every other person who has passed away that was an athlete. It represents the message that everyone in this world deserves a chance to compete and enjoy the beauty of athletics. Finally, it represents the Special Olympics, which is the organization that has brought so much joy and love to my brother, my family, and millions of people around the world. As a former athlete, I have had many great sports moments, but carrying the torch for the Special Olympics was the greatest sports moment of my life.”

Nick and his family remain very involved with the Special Olympics each year and it helps them to honor Dakota’s life and spirit. They participate in various fundraisers for the Special Olympics such as the Polar Plunge. They also host a 5k run in their hometown every year, and the money gained from the entry fees go toward a scholarship in Dakota’s name and assists students who want to go into a field that helps individuals with disabilities. Chris Karn, Nick and Dakota’s father, said: “The Special Olympics were always a wonderful time because it gave Dakota his moment in the sun while participating in sports. He attended every sporting event of his brothers and was always supportive of them, but when it was time for Special Olympics, that was HIS time. In addition, it was always a time for family to come and cheer Dakota on, and he loved every minute of it. Even after Dakota’s passing, we are still friends with so many of the athletes. Every time I see one of them, they give me a big hug and tell me how much they miss Dakota. That is the magic of the Special Olympics – the athletes are wonderful people with great big hearts.”

Nick Karn is just one SAL member and he and his family are just one example of lives touched by this tremendous organization. Sigma Alpha Lambda is proud to be a part of this year’s Special Olympics, which utilizes the power of sports to help people with intellectual disabilities discover strengths and abilities, skills and success!