Special Olympics to honor unsung hero

Rich Kalcznski

Rich Kalcznski

PROSPECT — Special Olympics Connecticut has become family for Rich Kalcznski.

Kalcznski, who turns 68 today, said he has volunteered with the organization for 34 years, and for 12 of those years he has served as co-local coordinator of the Special Olympics Waterbury team.

“It becomes your life,” Kalcznski said.

He will receive the Unsung Hero Award tonight at the Special Olympics Connecticut Hall of Fame Dinner “Celebrating 45 Years of Memories” at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.

According to the organization, the award goes to volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes for Special Olympics Connecticut with no expectation of recognition or reward.

The event honors extraordinary athletes, volunteers and supporters who show leadership, spirit and selflessness, inspire joy through sport and promote respect for individuals of all abilities.

Kalcznski also has served as a Special Olympics track official and the venue director at the 2012 Special Olympics Northwest Regional Games. He helped to establish a partnership with the Waterbury Police Activity League that has provided more athletes with year-round opportunities to play sports.

Rebecca Brookshire, program and volunteer coordinator for the Northwest Region of Special Olympics Connecticut, said she asked Kalcznski to be last year’s venue director at the Northwest Regional Games in Danbury because he has been around for years and has valuable opinions that she respects. He will serve as venue director again this May, she said.

“He is very personable and honest,” Brookshire said. “I always go to him for bouncing things off of him.”

Kalcznski, who worked as a financial controller for Nidec in Torrington before retiring, said his family already is in the Hall of Fame, and it surprised him to receive an individual award.

He said he doesn’t know what it means to be an “unsung hero” because he receives letters, hugs and “thank yous” from the athletes.

Unlike coaching a high school or a college team, where students move on and often never see their coach again, Kalcznski has coached athletes who compete at 8 or 9 and are still playing at 43, he said.

“It becomes family,” Kalcznski said. “It’s more than the sport. We create memories”

Early on with the organization, Kalcznski coached everything from bowling to softball. He would take his brother Tom to practices and at that time decided to coach. His brother has Down syndrome and lives with Kalcznski and his wife.

Kalcznski eventually volunteered in management, and then served as director of regional games for several years. He also has served on various committees for Special Olympics Connecticut.

He and Nick Ciccarelli of Waterbury serve as the co-local coordinators of the Special Olympics Waterbury team.

Besides himself, his family also has volunteered as coaches including his wife Fran, their daughter, Stacey, Stacey’s husband and even cousins.

In an email he said Special Olympians teach volunteers that achieving a goal is not limited by one’s physical or mental capabilities.

“We learn from them that friendship is more important than winning,” he wrote. “It is a gift to be able to work with them and befriend them.”