Nordholm Family Leads by Example

By Alexandra Dickens

The Nordholm family has stayed true to Special Olympics Southern California’s mission. Their story is one that will not be forgotten, as the Nordholms have helped change lives for the past 50 years “through the simple power of sport.”

Their contributions will be celebrated Saturday at this year’s Breakfast with Champions from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the California State University, Long Beach Student Union Ballroom. The Nordholm family will be the recipients of the Rafer Johnson Humanitarian Award. The individual or individuals who receive this award exemplify Rafer Johnson’s integrity and unwavering efforts to improve lives in the community.

Betty Nordholm began the Special Olympics Long Beach chapter in 1969, with 27 athletes and two sports. Her daughters participated in those early events; Carol as an athlete and Elyse as a volunteer. The organization was built on family and compassion. The Long Beach Program today still carries the same values that Betty established 50 years ago.

“Most of the people in the program I’ve known forever,” Elyse Garcia said, “so it’s like fighting for family.”

In 1999, Betty passed away, leaving the leadership role to Elyse. The passion and enthusiasm Betty set for the organization has undoubtedly been passed down. Elyse’s education at CSULB (BA in Social Work and MA in Recreation Therapy) coupled with her genuine dedication to the organization has led to its remarkable reputation and growth.

“From that first encounter, and for almost 50 years, the leadership and inspiration provided first by Betty and subsequently her daughter Elyse, have made my association with the Long Beach Area Special Olympics truly a labor of love,” Rick Duree said.

As the Long Beach area director since 1996, Elyse has recruited and grown the program to more than 200 athletes, along with carefully selected coaches and volunteers.

The Nordholm family’s dedication to keep sports training and competition at the core of their athlete’s activities and their concern for the athlete’s welfare shows how much heart the family has poured into this organization. Elyse and the Nordholm family have always had the athletes’ best interest in mind and will continue to do so.

“I could see their passion for improving the lives of challenged adults and youth from my first time with Special Olympics 33 years ago,” Mike Kimmel said.

Elyse and the Nordholm family’s legacy is an inspiration. They raised the bar on what it means to be a community leader.

Special guests at the breakfast will include keynote speaker and Long Beach State men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe and Special Olympics athletes, among others.

To purchase tickets and be a part of this motivational event please visit:

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