Special Olympics New York Announces Nominees for 2024 Athlete of the Year Award

Winner Will Be Revealed at Opening Ceremonies of State Summer Games June 14

Albany, NY – Special Olympics New York today announced nine candidates—one from each region of the state—who have been nominated for the distinguished title of 2024 Athlete of the Year. The winner will be revealed during Opening Ceremonies of State Summer Games in Ithaca Friday, June 14.

“Each of the nominees for Special Olympics New York Athlete of the Year are proven champions in their sports and exceptional role models for their peers,” said Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman.

To be eligible for Athlete of the Year, candidates must fulfill several criteria, including at least five years of training, participation in at least three sports and two competitions throughout the previous year, and support for the Special Olympics movement outside of sports. The 2024 nominees are as follows:

Matt Graham, Capital District Region: Throughout a more than 10-year career with Special Olympics NY, Matt has competed in softball, bowling, athletics, basketball, floorball, and—the sport he has shattered records in, both in New York and nationally—powerlifting. Matt is an athlete leader, a top fundraiser, an advocate for the health of people with disabilities, and an intern with the organization.

Diane Budnar, Central Region: Diane has competed with Special Olympics NY for more than half her life, and that dedication shows, both on and off the field. With experience in snowshoe, golf, bocce, bowling, track & field, and fitness, along with a current seat on the Statewide Athlete Leadership Council and more than $50,000 raised for the organization, Diane is one of the state’s most dedicated athletes.

Zach Adams, Genesee Region: In the words of those who nominated Zach for this award, he’s an athlete who “radiates positivity.” In addition to being a 16-year competitor in alpine skiing, bowling, basketball, golf, and soccer, Zach serves on his Regional Athlete Leadership Council and assists with local fundraising. No matter the task, he’s always willing to lend a helping hand.

Richard Fishwick, Hudson Valley Region: Over his 13 years with Special Olympics NY, Richard has competed in basketball, softball, bowling, and track & field, finding success in each sport. He’s also an influential leader in his community, both with his fellow teammates and with his dedicated membership on the Statewide Athlete Leadership Council, from which he recently graduated. Richard’s official nomination describes him as “an individual who leads by example.” This is his second consecutive nomination.

Matthew Schuster, Long Island Region: Matthew has been an athlete since he was eight years old. At age 41, he’s expanded his role even further. From competing in swimming, floorball, softball, golf, and basketball to volunteering at his regional office and at State Games, Matthew is a pillar of the Special Olympics NY community. This is his second consecutive nomination.

Steven Maiman, New York City Region: At 68 years old with more than 20 years of Special Olympics competition experience, Steven isn’t just an athlete—he’s also become a coach for his training club. Outside personal competition, Steven attends local games to cheer on his peers, as well as assisting with fundraisers. Those who nominated him describe him as “an outstanding advocate for the team.”

Allen Hurteau, North Country Region: As a year-round athlete in basketball, softball, and bocce, Allen is a vital member of the Special Olympics NY movement. In addition to his sports, he also participates in numerous fundraising campaigns and serves on our Statewide Health Messenger team. As stated by those who nominated him, Allen is “considered by teammates and coaches to be an excellent role model.”

Chris Bickham, Southern Tier Region: Chris joined Special Olympics NY at 12 years old, and he’s been with the organization ever since. Whether he’s competing in softball, floorball, or basketball, he is a natural leader, becoming the first and only captain his training club has ever had. During his 20 years of involvement, Chris has never missed a sports season.

Ronald Ward, Western Region: Ron embodies the Special Olympics Athlete Oath of being brave in the attempt. With more than 25 years of experience in softball, bowling, and bocce, he conducts himself with class and integrity. Off the field, you can find him fundraising for his fellow athletes, as well as advocating on his Regional Leadership Council. This is his second consecutive nomination.

Members of the media who wish to interview the nominees may contact Casey Vattimo at cvattimo@nyso.org.