Kenny Whitaker wins Susan T. Demasi Athlete of the Year
Kenneth J. Whitaker, or “Kenny,” as he is known to friends and family, is the 2009 recipient of the Susan T. Demasi Athlete of the Year given by the Special Olympics of South Carolina. This award is presented to the Special Olympics athlete who “epitomizes the spirit of a true winner by his or her willingness to help others and give his or her best while displaying outstanding courage and sportsmanship.” Kenny participates in track and field with the Special Olympics of South Carolina but has also dedicated his time and testimony to benefit the cause by raising awareness and money for the organization.
Kenny has worked for the Publix at 2800 Rosewood Drive in Columbia for the past five years and is a familiar and friendly face to customers and staff. This past Thursday afternoon, the staff of Publix held a special ceremony for Kenny to celebrate his award. He was presented with the leather jacket reserved for South Carolina Athletes of the Year and with the torch of the Special Olympics. He took the torch on a symbolic run around the store as part of the celebration.
Publix Super Markets is a long–time supporter of the Special Olympics. The company holds a special annual fundraiser for the Special Olympics during which Kenny gives extra time to come to the store and encourage people to give. This year, customers donated $96,505.16 in South Carolina and $1,474,171.10 countrywide. According to Publix staff, “Kenny talks about Special Olympics to everyone who will listen. He is a very positive person. It is his attitude that bagged him his job at Publix. He is very courageous and very proud to be a Special Olympics athlete. Kenny has a spirit about him so that people can’t help but to give to the athletes.”
Participants in Thursday’s ceremony included Barry Coats, president and CEO of the Special Olympics of South Carolina; Debo Hayes, representing Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott’s office; Pearl Whitaker, Kenny’s mother; Sam Alexander, a friend and former member of Richland County law enforcement; and childhood friend Ann Austin and her family.