Special Olympics athlete Erykah Culbertson, who already had earned an impressive 144 gold medals, won three ribbons in March while representing Team USA on the world stage.
Erykah, who works at the Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen restaurant in Charlotte, NC, placed 4th in the relay race and 7th in both the 100-meter dash and the long jump during the Special Olympics World Games held March 14-21 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. More than 7,500 athletes from 190 countries competed.
“The event was spectacular from beginning to end,” said her father, Michael Culbertson. “Instead of using the term ‘special-needs,’ the athletes were described as ‘people of determination.’ More women participated than ever before, and we talked to people from all over the world.” Erykah’s father, mother Wanda and big brother Mikey went to Abu Dhabi to cheer her on.
Erykah, who has autism, said her favorite parts were making new friends, running and shopping for souvenirs. She was selected as one of four athletes (out of the state’s 39,000 Special Olympics athletes) to represent North Carolina on Team USA. It was at the state level that she won those 144 gold medals — not just in track and field but also in basketball, bowling, tennis, equestrian events, alpine skiing, roller skating, golf and cycling. She began competing in 2005.
Her father, a Special Olympics coach in basketball, skiing, tennis, and track and field, served as Erykah’s coach leading up to the Games. She worked hard, he said. Every other day for three months, she focused on cardio training by running track and, when the weather was bad, working out on a treadmill, elliptical machine and exercise bicycle.
Erykah, a student at Cox Mill High School in Concord, NC, began working part time at Cheddar’s in November 2016. As a service assistant, she rolls silverware into napkins for guests. “I love my job,” she said. “I’m good at it.” Her father said she won’t miss a day of work unless it’s for a Special Olympics event.
“We are very appreciative that Cheddar’s has offered her the opportunity for employment and inclusion in a society that can be sometimes overwhelming for those with special needs,” Michael said. “This experience is invaluable as it has taught Erykah the importance of responsibility and given her the feeling of accomplishment.”
“Erykah adds teamwork and a positive attitude to our team,” said Managing Partner Drew Perry. “She helps us deliver great experiences to our guests, and it's a pleasure to have Erykah on our team.”