If you were at Monday’s first day of the 2017 Utah Open at Riverside Country Club in Provo and got the chance to meet Faith Anderson, 37, from West Valley City, you would know just how fitting her middle name is:
Anderson was one of the many Special Olympians at the event who brought their own contagious brand of enthusiasm and vivaciousness to the golf course.
“We are champions, no matter if we lose or win,” Anderson said. “We are still winners no matter what and have confidence like everyone else does. We don’t give up.”
Whether she was high-fiving golfers as they drove out onto the course for the afternoon pro-am event or sinking 15-foot putts in the annual Short-Game Challenge (she dropped in two of those over the nine-hole competition), she was as happy and energetic as anyone on the course.
“We do a lot of events but we only do this once a year,” said Devin Dehlin, executive director of the Utah Section of the PGA. “Maybe we should do it more often because it’s a lot of fun.
“The atmosphere is fun. The relationships you have with the athletes makes it worth it and a lot of fun for sure.”
Those who have been around Anderson know just how much she enjoys being part of Special Olympics.
“Faith is wonderful,” said D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, president and CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. “She works, she’s out volunteering, she does sports, she does everything — and she is a lot of fun, too.”
Anderson has been playing golf for only a few years but has her own routine.
“I talk to myself and that helps me think strong,” Anderson said. “We show we can do it but we’ve also got to have fun.”
Pignanelli said Anderson is a classic example of an athlete who is always willing to step up to a new challenge.
“She is one of our athletes who is always willing to try something,” Pignanelli said. “That is the concept of being an athlete. The athlete oath is let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. She is always saying, ‘I’ll try.’”
Pignanelli told of being at a Knights of Columbus fundraiser with Anderson and that at the last minute someone asked her to speak.
“She said, ‘I hadn’t planned on this but I would love to tell you about Special Olympics,’” Pignanelli said. “She gave this two-minute speech off the cuff just because she was passionate about the difference it made in her life.”
Pignanelli said it was amazing to watch Anderson make the putts during the challenge and get so excited seeing the ball go in the hole.
Anderson has competed in Special Olympic events like walking, running, swimming, softball, bocce and skiing in addition to golf. She said she has collected nearly 60 medals and would love to someday compete in the World Games.
The Short-Game Challenge is a team event where Special Olympians join top golfers and local sports reporters in a chipping-and-putting contest.
“There are so many golf professionals that play in the event year after year that they have relationships with that are ongoing,” Dehlin said. “I had one of the athletes send me a Facebook message to let me know that I needed to tell Zach Johnson and Clay Ogden that she wasn’t going to be here this year because she had knee surgery. I told her I would make sure I passed that on.”
Anderson described being at the event and being able to participate with her characteristic effusiveness.
“To me it is like feeling free and happy,” she said. “You don’t give up. Look at everyone. I just love it being around everyone. That’s what counts.”
Pignanelli said the interaction between the Special Olympians and the other participants is integral to the purpose of the organization.
“When we are here at the Utah Open, we are creating inclusive communities, having those with intellectual disabilities and those without do things together,” Pignanelli said. “We want the athletes to learn their sport, get out in the community and have some fun with everyone.”
For more information on Special Olympics visit sout.org.
The 2017 Utah Open will feature pro-am competitions until the full tournament begins Friday at Riverside Country Club. Full details can be found at utahpga.com/2017utahopen.