When Joan Nester signed a permission slip in 1983 for her son, Robert, to go to a local track and field meet with his school, she didn’t know much about Special Olympics. Over the next 34 years, Joan became instrumental in the leadership and direction of Special Olympics New Jersey programs, participating in more than 50 competitions and serving in a variety of different roles in the organization. We are proud to recognize Joan for her efforts and award her the 2017 Coach of the Season.
From Volunteer to Coach
When Robert first started regularly participating with Special Olympics New Jersey track and field as a child, Joan loved watching him compete. One year, his team’s coach unexpectedly left the program. Without a coach, the team wouldn’t have gone to Summer Games that year. Many in the program were disappointed, but Joan was not overcome and instead took advantage of the opportunity to lead. She took the team to Summer Games that year along with another willing volunteer. After that year, Joan started coaching regularly and has never looked back.
Her tenacity and accomplishments as a proud parent and coach followed from the summer track and field season to the winter season. While serving as a chaperone for Robert at a Winter Games skills program in 1989, she was approached by the cross-country ski coach about the prospect of her Robert trying cross-country ski competition. Convinced it was worth a shot, she began assistant coaching. Three years later, she took on the role of head coach.
Committed to Innovation
Since that time, Joan has had an unwavering commitment to the art of training cross-country skiers. Despite the inconsistent weather in New Jersey, her Mercer Independents continue to follow a vigilant practice routine. Joan prepares the team for competition by practicing weekly at Mercer County Park. When the winter weather cooperates with snow, the athletes ski over the hills at the Park and take advantage of training opportunities at nearby ski centers. When there is little to no snow, Joan gets creative. She manipulates the training space with the help of friendly shovelers and small collections of ice scrapings. She has also found the grass around the softball field is good for sliding. Whatever it takes, Joan aims to give her athletes the best training experience possible.
Along with innovation, Joan emphasizes skill development during practices. Focusing on how to slow down, speed up, turn and side step, Joan ensures her skiers are prepared to ski. And practice has certainly paid off. Adding to Joan’s notoriety as a coach of unparalleled devotion, the Mercer Independents cross-country ski team are some of the best trained athletes each year at Winter Games.
Joan has proven herself an asset to the winter season coaching community and has wise words for coaches just getting started.
“Pick a sport [athletes] enjoy and observe an existing team. Share their skills with the athletes. Treat each person as an individual and encourage them to TRY.”– Joan Nester
She looks forward to helping athletes grow, be successful and, most importantly, enjoy themselves. As a parent, chaperone, coach and committee member, Joan continues to make Special Olympics New Jersey better with each year of her involvement. For her dedication, persistence and initiative, Special Olympics New Jersey is honored to name Joan Nester as the 2017 Winter Sports Coach of the Season.
Interested in becoming a coach like Joan? Learn more about coaching with SONJ.