Proud to Serve: Junior Aiden Petterson Was Missouri’s Head Tennis Coach During 2022 Special Olympics USA Games
Westminster College junior Aiden Petterson is combining his passion for sports with a servant’s heart by developing lifelong relationships as a volunteer for the Special Olympics.
Last summer, Petterson served as the head tennis coach for Missouri’s Team MoMagic in the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida. At 20 years old, his unique background and experience in working with Special Olympics athletes made Petterson an easy choice for this honorable position.
“Westminster emphasizes having your own voice, and I think this experience with the Special Olympics allowed me to utilize the tools I have been developing at Westminster to become a more well-rounded individual,” Petterson says.
As a well-rounded individual, Petterson has been involved in a number of sports throughout his 15 years with the Special Olympics: basketball, bocce ball, and bowling, for starters. He currently is a member of the Westminster men’s tennis team and recently took up pickleball.
Petterson adds that the diversity of sports available to Special Olympics athletes means they have the opportunity to train and compete year-round.
A native of Boise, Idaho, Petterson’s family moved to Fulton when he was 3. As a Westminster student, he is majoring in Sports Management, minoring in Coaching, and obtaining a non-profit certificate.
Despite his busy workload, Petterson still finds a way to be extremely active in the Special Olympics organization. The relationships that he has developed keep him coming back and finding time to dedicate to this important effort.
“There is no comparison to these relationships,” Petterson emphasizes. “I have built relationships over the last 15 years, and some of these athletes have really been a big part of my childhood.”
Petterson started helping his father, Ken Petterson, who along with Debbie Luckenbill co-founded Fulton’s Special Olympics program, when he was just 5 years old. He began by shagging balls at basketball practice in the Fulton Middle School gymnasium.
He reflects, “It was fun, and I loved playing basketball with my new friends. The sense of teamwork and competition also was a big inspiration in being involved.”
An only child, Petterson grew fond of the blossoming relationships he was establishing at the Special Olympics practices. He even noted he often saw Special Olympics athletes more than his peers from school and looked forward to seeing them at practice.
Over the years, the Westminster student has served as a volunteer, Unified Partner, and most recently, head coach. Additionally, Petterson served on the Youth Activation Committee and spoke at the Missouri Association of Student Councils.
In 2018, he traveled to the USA Games in Seattle, Washington, with Team Missouri as a Unified Partner — someone without intellectual disabilities who trains and competes as a teammate alongside Special Olympics athletes on a Unified Sports team.
Petterson explains that Unified Partners are dedicated to teaching the skills of the sport as well as engaging in regular social interaction with the special-needs individuals.
“I had to be on top of everything so I could accompany and support the athletes 24/7,” he says.
Working as a Unified Partner prepared Petterson for his head coaching duties in 2022.
Leading up to the USA Games, he says Westminster allowed the team to use their facilities for practices. Petterson adds, “Every business, vendor, and school in Fulton has been such a great help to our efforts.”
Petterson says he hopes to work in a career in which he can impact the lives of others in a positive way. With Special Olympics already encompassing a large part of his life, he plans to continue working with the organization in the future.
“During the pandemic, we didn’t have a competition for two years, and it was a piece of my life I was missing,” Petterson says. “I can’t imagine my life without the Special Olympics.”
Pictured above: Special Olympics athlete Joey Garrard, Aiden Petterson, and Petterson’s mother, Special Olympics Unified Partner Jennie Petterson.