Golf Takes Special Olympics Athlete to New Heights

Stacey Johnston-Gleason has had an incredibly active life in the realm of Special Olympics. At 56 years of age, she has been a Special Olympics athlete for nearly four decades participating in 18 sports over the years and holding a number of leadership roles.

These days Stacey says her favorite sport is golf.

This summer, Stacey was selected as one of 10 Special Olympics athletes from across the country to participate in the Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge 2023. She and the other athletes played alongside participants from First Tee and Wounded Warriors on July 31 and August 1 in Reston, Virginia. The Brightspot Unified Challenge started in 2013 with the goal of bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds to bridge the gaps and cultivate meaningful relationships.

“The Wounded Warriors are so inspirational. So inspirational,” according to Stacey. “One of the Wounded Warriors had both legs missing from above the knee and one arm missing. He’s out there walking with prosthetics and playing with one arm. And he’s a 12 handicap!”

Stacey plays on her hometown course in Ronan three to four times a week, but says she enjoys playing new, challenging courses.

“The most challenging courses would be anything on the east coast because there’s Bermuda grass. Bermuda grass is hard to get out of, especially around the greens. The greens are quick—so it’s a lot more challenging.”

Despite her years playing golf, Stacey still finds it challenging.

“I like the challenge of trying to get my handicap down and seeing improvement. My handicap is the best it’s ever been.”

Her handicap is 11.3.

In addition to her impeccable handicap, Stacey achieved her first hole-in-one this summer during the State Summer Games in Bozeman. But it wasn’t just any hole-in-one. It was a 211 yard par 4.

“It’s called an albatross because it’s a par 4. It’s an amazing thing to have an albatross. It’s amazing to have a hole in one, but usually an albatross happens on a par 5. And you get a 2 on a par 5 so to get a hole in one…it was a short par 4. So, it’s not like crazy, but it’s still cool!”

According to the Professional Golfers Association and the National Hole-in-One Registry, the odds of the average golfer making a hole-in-one is 12,500 to 1. The odds of an albatross are an estimated 6 million to 1.

Stacey placed first at the 2023 State Summer Games with a score of 81.

Regardless of her success in sports, Stacey is quick to let people know that Special Olympics is more than just playing sports.

“It’s about finding other things you can do like officiating, volunteering in other ways.”

For Stacey, it includes leadership. This year she was named to the United States Athlete Leadership Council (US ALC). The meetings serve to ensure that regional reps are getting feedback, opinions, and comments from athlete leaders in their region. The US ALC region representative shares that information back to the rest of the US ALC.

“I’m to lead the northwest in meetings and get and give feedback to the US ALC on what folks are doing.”

In the past, Stacey has had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics International (SOI) and Special Olympics Montana. She currently serves on the golf committee for SOI.

Stacey sees the possibility of serving on the SOMT board again someday and maybe coaching, but she sees the importance of sharing the opportunities.

“I think younger athletes, the younger generations need to step up and get involved now.”

What’s next for Stacey? There’s always a condor. Not the vulture, but the absolute rarest shot in golf. It’s a “1” on a par 5.