Despite the nine degree temperatures and eight inches of snow on the ground at this year’s Winter Games, the four snowshoe athletes competing on Team YCS North managed to bring home one gold and one bronze medal from the ten races they competed in. It was an impressive showing from the team, but came as no surprise to their coach, Rashawn “Rocky” Ricks.
In preparation for Winter Games every year, Ricks begins his team’s snowshoe training early. He takes his team – consisting of athletes Connor Gillard, D’Andre Hodges, Freddery Jimenez and Edward Sammons – to a grassy field in Passaic County for conditioning. Twice a week for nearly ten weeks, the athletes can be found running up the hill several times over, wearing showshoes and sometimes even racing Ricks.
It is an impressive training regime for any coach to put together, especially for the 6’2″ former linebacker who did not have any prior experience or knowledge of snowshoeing when he first began coaching. What he did know was football. In 2003, Ricks received a football scholarship to play at Rutgers University. He spent his first season practicing as a redshirt freshman, developing in a new position. That summer, he was involved in a devastating car accident that took the life of his brother, best childhood friend and another friend. He was the lone survivor. To add to the heartbreak surrounding the losses, Ricks sustained a collapsed lung and severe whiplash and was told he would never be able to play football again.
The people and the game that he loved had been taken from him, but Ricks didn’t let that destroy his spirit. After nearly a year of healing, he began student coaching for the Rutgers football team. That is where he first realized his passion for coaching. He continued his studies and graduated in 2007.
Rocky has a passion for inspiring youth through sports. He spends most of his time hanging out at Kilbarchan with his athletes, lovingly guiding them to grow in athletics and as young men. He is quiet and unassuming, but will confidently tell you, “I know my guys, and I really enjoy coaching them.”
This summer will mark ten years since Ricks’ accident. After facing so much adversity, it is a testament of character that he has dedicated his life to serving Special Olympics New Jersey athletes. We are proud to have such a committed and humble individual in the Special Olympics New Jersey coaching community. For that, we say thank you and congratulations to the Special Olympics New Jersey 2014 Winter Sports Coach of the Season, Rocky Ricks.