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The Special Olympics Arizona board of directors named Jamie Heckerman the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit this fall. Heckerman is an alumna of Arizona State University's School of Community Resources and Development, where she majored in therapeutic recreation.
“I am thrilled to hear of Jamie’s appointment to president and CEO of Special Olympics Arizona because of her tireless commitment to empowering children and adults to experience the joy of sport,” said Kelly Ramella, coordinator of ASU's therapeutic recreation program. “It is a source of pride for the ASU therapeutic recreation program to know that one of our alumni has had and will continue to have a positive influence on the accessibility of sport for all and improvement of health in Arizona.”
Heckerman earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona. But the wheelchair basketball player gave it up after working with Special Olympics in Tucson. She found her calling and came to Phoenix to study therapeutic recreation at the School of Community Resources and Development.
“In therapeutic recreation, you work with so many different types of populations of people or groups of people,” Heckerman said. “I work with (an) intellectually disabled population and I really enjoy it.”
Heckerman understands the important role sports can play in the lives of people who otherwise may not be seen as athletes.
“You know, I was born with a disability. I was born with spina bifida, so I'm a full-time wheelchair user,” Heckerman said. “I got engaged in sport at a very young age, I played wheelchair basketball and got a scholarship to go to the U of A.”
She also wants to give back. She credits recreation therapists with opening the door for her.
“So it's working with a group of people that have a disability. And they're looking to not necessarily overcome it, but be a part of their community in any way that they can and act as a normal, everyday citizen, and that's what we're allowing them to do through therapeutic recreation,” Heckerman said. “Maybe it's getting them back out in the community to go out with friends, go see a movie. What we can do to make those things easier for them."
Heckerman worked in adaptive sports for the city of Peoria after graduating in 2009, which allowed her to remain involved with Special Olympics. She later joined the organization as a sports manager working with athletes and coaches. Heckerman worked her way up through a number of positions until she was called upon to serve as interim CEO earlier this year.
“Jamie’s proven record of success in Special Olympics Arizona will ensure that our more than 25,000 athletes and almost 23,000 volunteers will have a strong leader to advocate for them moving forward,” said Peoria Police commander Douglas Steele, board chair of Special Olympics Arizona.
Heckerman will be tasked with expanding the organization’s programs, moving the location of its headquarters, and increasing the number of athletes and volunteers.
“Being able to see this organization grow and stay on the same track that we were on in terms of growth and program development is tremendous,” Heckerman said. “Personally, I get to grow as an individual. I get to increase my leadership skills and I get to meet new people and work with donors and development.”
She is also mentoring a new generation of public service leaders.
"Jamie serves as a role model for many young professionals and students and has given me an opportunity to achieve my personal goals," said Angelica Raya, a student intern from the School of Community Resources and Development. "I know that her office is always open, and (she) will always have our best interest in mind."