Going the distance: Area teens carve paths coaching Special Olympics track

Published 12:10 am Thursday, January 18, 2024

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CLEMMONS — For many teenagers, downtime is filled with video games and hanging out with friends.

On the other hand, West Forsyth senior Colby Groce spends much of his time giving back to the community by coaching the area’s Special Olympics team.

Groce runs track for the Titans. He has been running for seven years, so he brings a lot of running experience to the table. However, going from athlete to coach has really opened his eyes.

“It has allowed me to see a different aspect of track,” Groce said. “I have always run track, and I am always being told what my workouts are and what not.”

It’s a bit different when the shoe is on the other foot.

“To not only experience track from a high school team aspect but to be able to coach it and to see those who do struggle in some aspects (has been gratifying),” Groce said. “To be able to share my love of this sport with them has always been probably my favorite aspect of it.”

The Special Olympics team that Groce coaches is based in Davie County but pulls athletes from the Clemmons area. That cross-county lineage is hardly limited to the athletes, though.

“My teammates from last year, I got them involved,” Groce said. “Not only were we teammates on the (West Forsyth) team, but we were coaches on the Special Olympics team, which was really fun.”

Groce began helping out with the team at the behest of longtime friend Parker Prysiazniuk, now 22, who coached the local team, attended national competitions and eventually became a liaison for the Peruvian team at the world games in Berlin last year.

Before that, Prysiazniuk was the delegation manager for Team North Carolina in Orlando at the USA games.

“I had the most incredible time there,” Prysiazniuk said. “I decided to take my commitment at what started at the local level, then the state level and ultimately to the global level, working my way up the ladder and trying to make as big of an impact as I can.

Prysiazniuk’s journey with the Special Olympics began as a high school freshman when he was looking for volunteer opportunities and ways he could make an impact.

“My mom and my sister had worked heavily with individuals with intellectual disabilities in their time,” Prysiazniuk said. “My great uncle actually had Down syndrome. I never had the chance to meet him, but I always heard great stories which inclined me to work within that population. They are so stigmatized and lack opportunities, especially in rural places.”

Prysiazniuk got in touch with the administrator of Davie County.

“They needed help with the tennis team,” Prysiazniuk said. “I went there as a wee little freshman at 15 years old as a volunteer and immediately made connections with the athletes. I decided to take my committee to each level that I could.”

Later that year, when he was certified as a head coach, he became the youngest head coach in the state.

“Following that, I continued to coach in tennis and then started a track and field team,” Prysiazniuk said.

That is where Groce’s experience came into play. Prysiazniuk contacted his longtime friend to gauge his interest in getting involved.

“I went to West Forsyth, Parker went to Davie,” Groce said. “He explained his experience getting into the Special Olympics and how beneficial it was for him to be involved not just for a resume for college but the knowledge that he gained when he started involving himself with athletes with disabilities.”

Prysiazniuk is now a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Groce hopes to attend Chapel Hill in the fall and major in sports administration.

“I’m really passionate about the sports field,” Groce said.

While Groce has found his experience with the Special Olympics incredibly rewarding, he’s pretty much ruled out any international travel with the organization.

“I don’t know that I could go overseas, but the passion that (Parker) has brought from traveling, and his continuing to share that with me, has been interesting to learn about,” Groce said.

Groce acknowledged that his time coaching is likely coming to an end as he redirects his focus to the rigors of a college academic schedule, but he’ll forever be thankful for the experience, memories and friendships he cultivated along the way.