2022 Athlete of the Year – Kyler Morrison of Whitefish

Kyler Morrison of Whitefish has been awarded the 2022 Distinguished Service Award for Athlete of the Year by Special Olympics Montana. 

Kyler has been involved in Special Olympics since age 11 when his teachers directed him to Special Olympics. He literally jumped in with both feet because his first experience with Special Olympics was participating in the Penguin Plunge (one of Montana’s Polar Plunges sponsored by the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the benefit of Special Olympics). Having completed more than 20 plunges, Kyler has raised tens thousands of dollars for the Glacier Area and his team, Whitefish Thunder. The 2023 Penguin Plunge will be his 23rd Polar Plunge. 

Kyler is a determined athlete who trains hard, plays hard and roots even harder for his teammates. In addition to sports competition, Kyler is a mentor to and advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

Upon graduating from high school, Kyler decided he wanted to serve on the Board of Directors because the board “needs to hear how athletes think feel and what they think.” After putting together a portfolio of experiences, Kyler interviewed and was elected to the SOMT Board of Directors, serving from 2009-2013. Kyler also served as an athlete advocate in 2010 when he traveled to Morocco as one of 66 athletes worldwide to assist in developing the 2011 – 2015 Strategic Plan to advance Special Olympics globally.

Above, Kyler is pictured with his parents Lynda and Kent of Whitefish. Kent received the 2022 Distinguished Service Award for Coach of the Year.

Kyler saw the challenge of transferring from a Special Olympics school team to an adult team. Without an adult team in Whitefish, he and others had to travel to the neighboring town of Kalispell to train with an adult team. When Kyler saw former high school classmates leaving Special Olympics because of transportation challenges, he decided Whitefish needed its own adult team. Kyler took his idea to the Whitefish Rotary which agreed to provide $1,000 for startup costs of an adult team. Ever the passionate advocate, Kyler even had seven Rotarians volunteer to coach. In 2011, the Whitefish Thunder team was launched and remains Whitefish’s first and only Special Olympics independent adult team.    

Understanding inclusion depends on knowledge, awareness, and understanding; Kyler wanted to find a way to recognize individuals with disabilities. Kyler and his father, Kent, worked with the Montana State Legislature to establish the Montanans with Developmental Disabilities Week in 2011. Now, every second week of May, is dedicated to classroom instructional time and all-inclusive activities. 

While competing in bowling, skiing, snowshoeing, power lifting, golf, track, and basketball, Kyler is an advocate and mentor in addition to athlete. 

2022 Athlete of the Year, Kyler Morrison with 2022 Coach of the Year, and his father, Kent Morrison.

Kyler, left, with previous Athletes of the Year: Kandi Christopherson, 2019; DJ Jackson, 2021; and Betsy Schaffer, 2020. 

Special Olympics Montana CEO Rhonda McCarty with 2022 Coach of the Year, Kent Morrison and 2022 Athlete of the Year, Kyler Morrison.

Kyler Morrison proudly dons his new jacket.