Athlete. Poet. Philanthropist. Community worker. Champion.
And now… Hall of Famer.
Kris Peterson, a Special Olympics athlete of more than 30 years, was recently honored at the 2017 San Jose Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony as the Special Olympics Athlete of the Year. Kris joined other local sports icons – including San Francisco 49ers legend Dwight Clark, longtime Stanford baseball coach Mark Marquess and Olympic soccer star Danielle Slaton, among others – in being enshrined at the SAP Center.
“Special Olympics has not only been a privilege and honor to participate in for the last 30-plus years, but also a routine of purpose that inspires me to see the lights of humanity in a world full of shadows,” said Kris, who received two standing ovations during his acceptance speech. “Whether I win a medal, a ribbon or simply a compliment, I feel that Special Olympics is truly the closest avenue for ideal utopia; for there are always smiles and friendships for me both on the sidelines and inside the lines of competition.”
Kris has participated in numerous Special Olympics sports through the years including basketball, softball and bowling. He has worked for the Community Options organization in San Jose for 13 years as a community training instructor, providing support for individuals with disabilities to find work and engage in other ways with the larger community.
“Kris has everyone’s best interest at heart,” said Monique Mingione, a Special Olympics coach. “He advocates so much for people with disabilities – or as he describes it, differ-abilities. He gives speeches to sponsors and local businesses and works for his community. There’s so much to admire about him.”
Described as a leader, a team player and an all-around positive spirit, Kris has struggled with numerous physical ailments but is always there to support his Special Olympics teammates, even when cheering from the sidelines. He regularly assists with new or younger athletes and is always ready and eager to help those around him.
“That’s the main thing I’d say about Kris – he’s helpful,” said Ken Massa, a longtime Special Olympics coach and friend to Kris. “Anybody can ask him for something and he’ll stop to help. He’s trustworthy. He’s intelligent. He’s a leader. Kris deserves this award so much.”
Outside of Special Olympics and his workplace responsibilities, Kris is a published poet and has written thousands of poems about a wide range of topics and individuals. He has also volunteered and raised money to participate in the annual AIDS/LifeCycle cycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to benefit HIV research and help improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“In both life and my Special Olympics experiences, I have simply given my best effort to make each day worth a memory,” said Kris. “Whether it is writing a poem – and trust me, I know I write profusely – or riding a bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles every first week in June with 2,500 other bicycle heroes, I strive to make not only a difference, but a positive difference, in this world.”
With this induction into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, Kris joins recent Special Olympics honorees Jennifer Hall (2016), Justin Voltaggio (2015) and Ashley Valdillez (2014) in having a permanent place in history at the SAP Center. A group of Special Olympics athletes, coaches and staff were on hand to join his family for the induction ceremony; but then again, to Kris, everyone is his family. And it’s clear to see why.
“I’m nearing 70 and I include Kris Peterson among the top-five people I’ve known in my life,” said Massa.
“He has overall the best heart of a person that I know,” added Mingione. “You can’t not love this guy.”
*Photo Credit: Josie Lepe, Bay Area News Group
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