Pay it 4ward: Retiring Special Olympics coach recognized by thankful parent

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In this week’s Pay it 4ward, a coach who’s been bringing out the best in people for well over two decades is recognized. 

With every student, Special Olympics Coach Chris Castillo has got a special bond

“She helps athletes become grownups, I would say because she helps them with their attitude, she helps them with their um confidence,” said Melody Stapleton, Pay it 4ward nominator. 

Stapleton’s daughter Hillary joined her Special Olympics team more than a decade ago and saw an impact immediately.

“My daughter, she’s like, A, she’s autistic. And she would talk and stuff to people, but now she would tell jokes. She got to go on road trips like a regular team,” said Stapleton. 

Even now, at 35, Hillary is still friends with those athletes.

“She just has fun. And so when I took her to drop her off at state up in Rio Rancho this past fall for bowling. She went up to one of her friends like ‘Hey, what’s up?’ You know, and stuff like that, which she never used to do. But then now she does,” Stapleton said. 

And she knew who she had to say thank you too. 

“I thank Chris for that because she brought so much confidence to her and friendship.”

Which is why she called KOB 4 to surprise Castillo by Paying It Forward with $400.

“She always went out of her way for these athletes. And without her, I don’t know if they would’ve had a team. My daughter wouldn’t have had a team,” said Stapleton. 

We found Castillo in the gym at Manzano High School.

“I just wanted to tell you thank you for everything you’ve done over the years with Special Olympics. There’s so many of us that love you,” Stapleton said. 

“Wow, I’m touched, I am so blown away. I was not expecting this at all. (laughs) I know you can’t see my smile,” said Castillo. “I’m shocked. I am actually shocked because I don’t do this for anything other than the love of the students, the love of the athletes and the love of Special Olympics as an organization.”

For more than two decades, Castillo has dedicated a lot of time to her athletes.

“Just because they may need a little bit more support doesn’t mean that they deserve to have that same kind of high school experience that other high school students get to have,” said Castillo. 

She encouraged her athletes to go to school events and got them letterman jackets.

“The one thing that you see for this Special Olympics provides to them is community, development, self-worth. They feel like they can accomplish something,” Castillo said. 

This year is bitter-sweet, Castillo is retiring from Special Olympics.

“I put in a lot of weekends and I’ve sacrificed some time with family. It is going to be hard. I mean, it’s going to be a different pace for me,” she said. 

Until then, she hopes more people will get involved and volunteer their time to help the Special Olympics too.