SOMI athlete Jim Bernard recites the Special Olympics Athlete Oath at the 2018 State Winter Games.

After 44 years of competing and participating in various Special Olympics Michigan events, Midland County athlete Jim Bernard was awarded the 2018 Rick VanderSloot Winter Sports Award during the Special Olympics Winter Games Opening Ceremonies at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme on Wednesday, January 31.

Jim maintains a "can-do" attitude and a "never-quit" philosophy by training diligently in many sports, which include: cross-country skiing, aquatics, basketball, Unified golf, soccer, bowling, athletics and walking, with cross-country skiing being his favorite sport to compete in.

Jim joined Special Olympics Michigan in 1973 at 12 years old. With Jim being a veteran athlete, his advice to his fellow athletes is to, "just try hard and have a good time."

"Jim is a true sportsman. He knows that winning is not everything - either in competition or life," said Mary Adams, Director of Area 30, "Jim does not give up easily and truly feels that nothing is impossible if he tries."

Jim is not only recognized for his athletic accomplishments, but he is also known throughout the community as a worker and volunteer. Over the years, he has worked and volunteered at the Arnold Center, Nexteer, McDonald's, Midland Daily News, Open Door volunteer, ushered at St. Brigid Catholic Church and was a volunteer dog walker for the Midland Animal Shelter.

In addition to receiving the award, Jim was also dubbed an honorary Wertz Warrior while on stage, a compliment that lasts a lifetime. Wertz Warriors have donated more than $11 million since their involvement with Special Olympics Michigan, and now Jim is one of them.

"I feel very good inside," said Jim about winning the award, "it's an honor."

The Rick VanderSloot Winter Sports Award honors Special Olympics Michigan athletes who participate in the State Winter Games and has successfully participated in Area Winter Games, shown to be a true sportsman throughout his/her training and competition, and trained and competed with the knowledge and understand that, "nothing is impossible if I try."

The Rick VanderSloot Winter Sports Award is presented annually in memory of Rick VanderSloot. He was a member of the Schuss Mountain and Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort management staff, and had been involved with State Winter Games for a number of years before his unexpected passing. Rick helped maintain many of the State Winter Games outdoor events for the athletes to have an amazing experience.