The Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce Gala focused on Special Olympics.
It was a moment that changed two lives. When special needs person Chevi Peters ended up sitting on a park bench after trying to kill himself by driving into on-coming traffic, he told the police officer that found him about his friend John Lair who came and spent three hours on the bench talking and convincing Peters he had a future and would help him get there.
That was the message Lair, who is the current CEO of Special Olympics Kansas, presented to the crowd at the Pratt Gala Friday night at the Pratt County Fairgrounds. The message of the evening was special olympics and featured Lair, 2017 Most Inspirational Athlete of the Special Olympics Kansas Summer Games Rodnel Turner and Miss Kansas Krystian Fish whose platform is "Remove the labels: Be Unstoppable" that focuses on people with disabilities.
The Pratt Community College Encore group provided music for the event.
Fish got the evening started by recognizing the Southern Wind Special Olympics Team as unsung heroes and presented each member with medals then sang a special song for them "I'm Here."
Lair got involved in Special Olympics when a college class offered extra credit for those who volunteered to help with a Special Olympics track meet. He volunteered all day and was hooked. Then Lair's best friend, Chad Oehme, died unexpectedly in September 2000, and he went through a period of depression. Then he started a Special Olympics team, The New Hope Bulldogs, in Pittsburg and he grew that program to an exceptional level with national recognition.
Then came that fateful night in July 2008 when he got a call from a police officer Chris Moore that Chevi Peters, a young man he knew, was sitting on a park bench after trying to commit suicide with a car. They cried in each others arms and talked for three hours. Lair convinced Peters, who was 24 years old and had an IQ of 70, he did have a future and offered him a variety of sports for a goal.
"Chevi, you're future is so bright. Set some goals and your dreams can come true," Lair said.
This 90 pound man chose power lifting, a surprise choice but Peters was determined and Lair agreed even though it would be difficult for such a small man to succeed. When Peters lifted 95 pounds, five more than he weighed, it was the first of many successes. Peters moved in with Lair and the training led to bigger and greater lifts.
Peters had multiple obstacles to overcome to be a power lifter. He had strokes when he was 5 and again at age 9, had liver and kidney problems, had a kidney transplant and a total of 38 operations. He has some brain issues from as well but through it all, he persevered and became a multiple medal winner in Special Olympics events. In 2014 at a meet in Princeton, N.J., Peters won gold, silver and bronze and became a national champion. At the World Games in Los Angeles he took gold with a 259 pound squat lift, silver for 149 bench press, gold for 325 dead lift and gold for 733 pounds combination total, Lair said.
The two go back to that park bench every year and remember that night when their lives were joined forever.
"Chevi says 'this is where my life changed forever,'" Lair said. "I said my life changed too."
Also sharing his story Friday was Ronel Turner, who was named 2017 Most Inspirational Athlete at the Special Olympics Kansas Summer Games. Turner has participated in Special Olympics for seven years, is a power lifter and takes part in bowling, basketball and bocce.
Turner lived in eight foster homes and at age 9 was adopted by his forever family. His mother Dawn introduced him to Special Olympics at age 12 where he competes in power lifting. At a New Hope meet, a person he was lifting against was cheering Turner on as he competed and that was a special moment for Turner.
Peters is a source of inspiration for Turner and has helped make him what he is today. His courage made Turner want to compete on the national stage. Turner lifts up the other competitors and encourages them even if they are lifting against him.
Turner will compete on Team Kansas next summer a the U.S. Games in Seattle. He is excited and wants to be the next legacy in Kansas.
Lair was named the 2014 Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year out of 120,000 coaches in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. He has attended three World Games and three USA Games as coach. He was featured on ESPN and named one of Major League Baseball and People Magazine "All Stars Among Us" recipient as one of the top volunteers in the U.S., an American Health Care Association Hero of the Year, Pittsburg State University Outstanding Alumni and Kansas Advocate of the year.