BYU Special Olympics president changes lives

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The BYU Special Olympic Softball Team celebrates winning their gold medal last spring, Blake is in the top right hand corner with the sunglasses on. Photo credit Blake Marchant

Blake Marchant hardly puts any effort into adorning his beat-up 1990 Ford Explorer. “This car is a piece of junk,” he says. “I’m just happy if it starts for me.”

However, there is one piece of memorabilia Marchant proudly displays in his rusty mode of transportation: a gold medal hanging from his rear-view mirror. The medal was awarded to Marchant as the coach of the 2013 Utah Special Olympics champions in the 4×100 relay.

“I brought the medal home and then the next time I saw them, the athletes asked me to hang it up in my car so they could see it when I drive them places,” Marchant explained. “They are very proud of it.”

Marchant, a 23-year-old from Sparks, Nev., is currently serving as president of BYU Special Olympics. In addition to overseeing the multiple sport programs offered to special needs individuals throughout Provo and Orem, Marchant is executive vice president for BYU’s SHERM club, holds two jobs and participates in an internship.

Despite Marchant’s jam-packed schedule, he makes serving those with special needs a priority in his life. His devotion toward helping special needs individuals started when his nephew, Tanner, was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“When my nephew was diagnosed with Down syndrome, it got me thinking about special needs and what they are,” Marchant said. “I wanted to understand more what my nephew was going to be like and become.”

Kim Bennett, Marchant’s sister and Tanner’s mother, was thoroughly impressed with her brother’s initiative.

“It impressed my husband and me very much,” Bennett said. “From the moment Blake learned of Tanner’s diagnosis he began researching all he could. We were caught off guard by Blake’s initiative and how much knowledge he had gained about Down syndrome.”

Marchant intensely researched the effects of the disease, and his friend suggested to him he volunteer in Special Olympics, so he could have more hands-on experience with special needs individuals before Tanner grew up.

“It was a pleasant surprise when we found out that Blake decided to become a part of Special Olympics,” Bennett said. “From these experiences my husband and I knew that Blake was going to be more involved in Tanner’s life.”

After initially volunteering in the winter of 2012, Marchant was asked to become president of BYU Special Olympics in the summer of 2013. Today his duties as president include coordinating all athletes and volunteers, registering athletes for state competitions, complying with state regulations, organizing fundraising efforts and scheduling all practices.

Marchant had to take on more of an administrative role as president, but he still finds time to coach the athletes and spend quality time with them.

“I still like coaching because we do special basketball or softball tournaments and we are with them three days in a row without the parents,” Marchant said. “You grow very close to the kids and become really good friends.”

The athletes all love interacting with Marchant, according to Special Olympics volunteer Bryce DeFigueiredo,

“All the athletes call him coach,” Defigueriedo said. “Blake really takes a real interest in their lives and I can tell they really look up to him and trust him but also look to him as a friend.  Everyone who interacts with him feels like a champion.”

Marchant reveres the opportunity to allow these special needs individuals to feel loved and cared for.

“It give the athletes an opportunity to feel special and to feel like people care about them,” Marchant said. “Growing up they didn’t have a community they could participate in.”

Besides changing lives and helping the needy, Marchant loves participating in Special Olympics because it provides him opportunities to sate his competitive spirit.

Heidi Marchant, a freshman at BYU and another of Blake’s sisters, explained Marchant’s competitive nature.

“He is super competitive,” Heidi Marchant said. “Like, he would get mad if he didn’t win board games at home.”

Marchant, an avid sports lover, usually takes winning and losing very seriously. However, since developing relationships with special need individuals, he has learned about incorporating some perspective into his life.

“I learn much more from them than they learn from us,” Marchant said. “They are very competitive but they handle losing so much better than the rest of us. They have a very good perspective about what really matters in life.”

Marchant says he plans to continue volunteering for BYU Special Olympics until he graduates, and stay involved within the special needs community wherever he resides.

“Tanner’s diagnosis may have sparked Blake’s desire to become involved with Special Olympics but now he finds so much joy and fulfillment from working with individuals with special needs,” Bennett said.

No matter where Marchant ends up, count on finding gold medals hanging from his rear view mirror, reminding him of the special people who changed his life just as much as he changed theirs.

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