The Betty Belden Palmer Outstanding Athlete of the Year

2019 Orange County Athlete of the Year
Greg Kozlowski

Meet Greg Kozlowski, our 2019 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year. Greg is an impressive ambassador representing all aspects of Special Olympics: Sports Training and Competition, Healthy Athletes, Leadership Development, and Advocacy for Inclusion. He has been involved with Special Olympics for over 17 years.

Sports Training
Greg has been involved in sports most of his life. He started playing golf with his father when he was young and continues to be an avid golfer today. He was on the wrestling team in high school. More recently, he added bowling to his sports training. He enthusiastically talks about his remarkable experiences as a successful Special Olympics athlete. He was one of three athletes from Orange County selected for the 2015 World Games team held in Los Angeles. He represented our country on the golf team and recounts his experiences meeting athletes from around the world as one of his best experiences. Greg was also selected as a member of the U.S. delegation in a unified sporting event hosted by the Guinness Book of Records in Shanghai, China.

He actively represents Special Olympics in many golf tournaments including the annual Columbus Day Drive, Kiwanis Golf Tournament, L.A. Lakers and L.A. Clippers Golf Tournaments, and KTLA Charity Golf. He demonstrated bravery by repelling down the Long Beach Hilton building to raise funds. Greg has also participated in the annual Plane Pull fundraiser and is the honorary team captain for the Virgin Orbit team. His sports training even prepares him to run with the Cypress police department in the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Developing athlete leadership skills is an important part of the organization. Greg is a natural leader who other athletes look up to. Greg is known for his sportsmanship, positive “can do” attitude, and inner strength. He is always ready to help teammates and congratulate them when they do well. His golf coach asked Greg to help the other athletes and Greg hopes to become a certified coach in the future.

Healthy Athletes
Special Olympics offers free health screenings, services, and education to improve athlete wellness. In 2017, Greg struggled with a condition that took a long time to identify. Based on the resources available through Special Olympics, Greg was diagnosed with a broken jaw and a life-threatening infection that was quickly treated. Earlier this year Greg was diagnosed with a knee infection and needed surgery. Nothing slows Greg down, two months after his surgery he competed in golf and won a bronze medal.

Greg is always happy to represent Special Olympics in the community. He started as a Sports Ambassador and is now a trained Global Messenger and a member of the Orange County Gavel Club. In fact, as a member of the World Games team, he was interviewed by a wide variety of media including NPR, ESPN commercials, KTLA, Cox Cable ,“Eye on LA”, Press Telegram, Channel 7 Athlete Profiles, OC Register, OC Golf Association magazine, and Golf Digest. Greg enjoys working with the police departments and the community at Tip a Cop events throughout the year. He actively shares his amazing story and how Special Olympics changed his life. When asked what Special Olympics means to him, he is quick to say it’s the inclusion, a new family of friends, amazing opportunities, a fun social life, and being part of a team.

Greg is blessed with an amazing family who encourage him in everything he does. They have seen him grow and become more social and confident. They are proud that he lives independently and volunteers three days a week at the Disabled Resource Center helping others. Greg has a catch phrase that sums up what Special Olympics means to him: "Special Olympics is Life Changing and Life Growing!"

2018 Orange County Athlete of the Year
Rebecca Nerney

"Special Olympics has taught me to be brave in whatever happens in my life!" This poignant statement from the Special Olympics Orange County Athlete of the Year, Rebecca Nerney, illustrates that through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. She finds joy, confidence and fulfillment on the playing field and in life.

Rebecca Nerney

When asked what being named the Special Olympics Orange County Athlete of the Year means to her, Rebecca replied, "Orange County Special Olympics has been a part of my life for 40+ years. It never even crossed my mind that I would be nominated for Athlete of the Year. I am so honored!" Over these forty plus years Rebecca has competed in eleven different sports and traveled all over the globe to represent the Orange County Region making lifelong friends out of the many athletes, coaches and volunteers she has met along the way. This proud and compassionate woman went on to say, "I feel that all the Orange County Special Olympians are athletes of the year! I am just representing them."

2017 Orange County Athlete of the Year
Jenny Skinner

Jenny Skinner

At eleven years of age, Jenny Skinner joined Special Olympics. Today, as a 35-year veteran of the program, she is the Betty Belden Palmer honoree for Outstanding Athlete. Jenny will receive the prestigious award on April 9 at the organization’s signature gala, Special Olympics on Parade, the Heart of a Champion.

It is easy to see how much Jenny loves Special Olympics. She grew up in a family that participated in sports and was encouraged to give her best in Special Olympics. Jenny’s athletic endeavors started with an assortment of sports, yet it was the friends she was making that stands out for her.

“It was exciting being with your teammates for local competitions and traveling away from home for competitions,” said Jenny. “We traveled to San Diego and Bakersfield along with Chapter Games in Berkley and UCLA.”

Of the 200 ribbons and medals she has acquired, the 1995 Special Olympics World Games in Connecticut is something she will always remember. Jenny returned with two silver medals and a bronze. She smiles when she talks about the whirlwind of excitement, the crowds, meeting athletes from all over the world and especially Opening Ceremonies – Special Olympics gave her something she will never forget.

Jenny teared up when she received the news of the award. “Over the next year, I hope to do my best to represent Special Olympics and all the athletes that try so hard.”

2016 Orange County Athlete of the Year
Debi Anderson

Debi Anderson

The Betty Belden Palmer Outstanding Orange County Athlete of the Year award is bestowed upon the athlete who exhibits the values expressed by the mission of Special Olympics Orange County. We are proud to announce the 2016 Betty Belden Palmer Outstanding Orange County Athlete of the Year winner is Debi Anderson.

Meet Debi Anderson. Working with young children is one of Debi’s passions, the other is Special Olympics! Debi has been involved with Special Olympics for 18 years and currently competes in gymnastics and volleyball.

In 2010 she represented Special Olympics Southern California at Capitol Hill Day in Washington D.C., and later, became an official Special Olympics Global Messenger. She just began her second term as an athlete representative and Board Member on the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors. She is also a Board Member and World Games Global Messenger for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games which were held in Los Angeles this summer.

Debi receives work experience through a program called Real Challenges, Inc. and works as a teacher’s aide at Rose Drive Elementary School in Placentia. In her spare time, she helps with childcare at her church and enjoys acting and dancing. She has appeared in 40 productions with Stagelight Family Productions Community Theater in Brea. Community service is important to Debi as well. She is an active member of Beta Sigma Phi (an international philanthropic sorority) and the Kiwanis-sponsored Aktion Club (service organization for adults with special needs).

Special Olympics has meant so much to Debi. Her favorite Special Olympics moments have been winning her first gold medal in track and field and the first time she flipped over the high bar in gymnastics.

She constantly encourages people with intellectual disabilities to learn about Special Olympics and sign up to be a part of it. “As a Special Olympics athlete, I learned that I can do sports that I have never considered doing. Because of that, my personal motto is: Nothing Is Impossible!”

Heart of a Champion

This award is bestowed upon the athlete who exhibits the values expressed by the mission of Special Olympics Orange County. The athlete of the year will be celebrated at Special Olympics on Parade: the Heart of a Champion. For more information please contact Jennifer Lucero at