Nancy Benningfield, a career development teacher in the Comprehensive Development Class at White County High School, has been selected to travel to Kazan, Russia, in February 2022 as a coach for the Special Olympics USA Alpine Skiing team.
“I have applied a few times, and I was beyond excited when I received the news I was selected,” Benningfield said about the opportunity to travel with the USA athletes, including five athletes from across the state of Tennessee.
While this will be her first adventure with the Special Olympics World Winter Games, Benningfield is no stranger to coaching athletes. Starting as a volunteer before becoming a coach, she is now a program director and is described by fellow coaches as having a passion for the athletes in the Middle Tennessee area that is inspiring.
“I have been with her for close to 15 years and have seen firsthand how dedicated she is to the athletes - she is more than a coach,” Jill McCulley, the assistant program director for Area 9 Special Olympics, is quoted as saying. “She’s a dedicated special education teacher and will walk into any role with Special Olympics.”
While this will be her first trip to the World Winter Games, Benningfield has been taking athletes to the State Winter Games, in Gatlinburg, for several years. She has said that she loves introducing athletes to the sport of alpine skiing, and fellow coaches and directors admire her for her patience as she teaches the various athletes to love the sport.
“Now, I am not a black diamond skier, and I told the head coach right up front that I wasn’t,” Benningfield said as she laughed.
But, I have a desire to see my athletes succeed in all they do. I am an encourager, and I can serve, so I am glad to put these two together to help our athletes have the best experience at World Games.”
The 2022 World Games, originally slated for this year, was pushed back a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will now be held in February 2022, but Benningfield is ready.
“Luckily, my husband bought me some heated ski boots and gloves, so I am ready!” she said.
The five Tennessee athletes who are traveling with Benningfield and competing in three different sports make up the largest Tennessee delegation to ever attend a World Winter Games outside of the United States.
Benningfield feels blessed to serve as a coach and help the USA Special Olympics athletes reach for new goals and experience the world.
“This is such a huge honor for me,” she said.