GREAT FALLS — Nick Roberts snaps his snowshoes to his feet on a brisk Saturday morning.
“Here we go!” he shouts, smiling.
Not many athletes get this excited about practicing in the snow in the dead of winter. But for Nick, it’s not just a day in the cold. It’s a chance to see his best friends and catch up with his coaches.
It’s also a chance to show off his brand-new jacket, the one that reads “2017 Special Olympics Montana Athlete of the Year”.
“Man, that was amazing,” he recalls about the ceremony at the state basketball tournament in Helena when SOMT President Bob Norbie called his name. “I was shocked.”
Shocking to Nick, obvious to everyone else.
“Those that spend time with Nick come to understand the world is a very good place to be in,” Norbie told MontanaSports.com. “Nick is filled with lots of joy. He is a magnet to a joyful world.”
In Nick’s world your background doesn’t matter, your station in life is irrelevant, your ability means nothing. He’ll greet everyone with his trademark smile and a high five.
“I’m a pretty cool guy,” he smiled. “That’s what I would say.”
Nick was born with Williams Syndrome, a condition characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning challenges. These often occur side by side with a very social personality and striking verbal skills, which is very much the case for Nick. He loves talking with everyone.
The 24-year-old has been involved in Special Olympics for 15 years, the past 10 in Montana. His immediate family, Nick’s mother Laurie and sisters Amber and Katrina, are his biggest fans and greatest supporters.
“He’s optimistic, always up and friendly,” Laurie said. “He’s the ‘cheerleader of the team’ is what I call him, always up to rooting on his teammates and cheering people on. Happy to be there with his peers.”
The Roberts family suffered personal tragedy when Nick’s father, Mike, passed away in a mining accident in 2012, shortly before Nick graduated from Great Falls’ CM Russell High School. Mike was a staunch supporter of Special Olympics and Norbie, who has grown close with the Roberts family over the years, sees a lot of the father in the son.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I do think that the family’s influence on Nick has been remarkable,” Norbie said. “Mike, at the heart of it, was an enormously generous person. His generosity was just overwhelming. It’s clear to me that Nick has acquired those characteristics. He’s incredibly generous with his time and energy and whatever he might have to share.”
These days, Nick shares his love of Special Olympics with peers and the community as a trained Global Messenger.
“Nick is a person who tends to find the best in people,” Norbie said. “And those that find the best in people tend to bring out the best in people. As an ambassador to our program, when he visits with people, it’s difficult for them not to lean in and listen carefully. Nick inspires them.”
But the people he inspires most are the ones closest to him.
“Having Nick as a brother can be challenging from time to time,” Katrina said, who serves as an SOMT youth volunteer coordinator in Great Falls. “But I wouldn’t be where I am today without him and being around Special Olympics and all of the opportunities that have been presented to me because of it. I’m very happy I was blessed with a brother like that.”
And SOMT is blessed to have an athlete like Nick spreading their message.
“I like it because I have a lot of friends and family and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I just like to have fun and do the best I can.”
Nick will compete in snowshoe at the CMR area winter games on Feb. 9 at Showdown and is excited to participate in the State Summer Games when they return to Great Falls May 15-18.