Sports helped shape Jeff Mohler’s life.
So, he has dedicated his career to helping others do that as well as a Special Olympics Indiana executive.
Mohler, who had been chief operating officer and vice president of programs since 2007, was named president and chief executive officer by the board of directors in January. Mohler replaced president Michael Furnish, who retired after more than 40 years as a volunteer, staff member and executive.
Mohler, who has two stints with Special Olympics totaling 15 years, has been a Carmel Middle School boys and girls cross country and track and field head coach for three years and a boys cross country and track assistant coach at Carmel High School for five years before stepping down after the 2017 track season.
The 1990 CHS graduate competed in cross country and track in high school. Mohler lives near the Carmel-Westfield border. He has a Carmel address but his children go to Westfield schools. His daughter, Lydia, is a Westfield High School sophomore and son, Owen, is a fifth-grader at Westfield Intermediate School.
Mohler was at Indiana University working on his master’s degree in nonprofit management when he served a college internship with Special Olympics in 1997.
“I really had an affinity for helping people, not just people with disabilities, but it worked out that way,” Mohler said.
Mohler, who also ran at Indiana Wesleyan University as an undergraduate, said it was a natural fit to stay within the sports world.
“I learned a lot about myself through sports,” he said. “I did fairly good academically in school but it really didn’t help me find out who I wanted to be as much as sports did.”
Sports taught Mohler the importance of working as a team
“I learned about life through athletics,” he said. “I want to give back to the community and get back to people with intellectual disabilities. Sports has a transforming power if we let it. It brings people together that normally wouldn’t socialize together. That’s the same when it comes to Special Olympics. Our athletes are able to make friends with people in the community that they normally would not have the opportunity to do so.”
Mohler played an integral role in establishing the Champions Together program, a partnership between Special Olympics Indiana and the Indiana High School Athletic Association, supported by Unified Champion Schools funding and dedicated to promoting social inclusion and providing opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to compete in sanctioned high school athletics. The partnership has grown under Mohler’s direction, with nearly 100 high schools fielding teams for state competitions in Unified Sports, taking part in programs focusing on leadership development, disability awareness and anti-bullying. More than half of all Indiana high schools are now participating in the program.
Mohler said there might be opportunities to bring the program to college.
“We’re not in every Indiana high school, and that’s a dream,” Mohler said. “We have Special Olympics programs in 72 of the 92 counties in Indiana, and it would be nice to be in those last 20.”
Mohler said the nonprofit aims to provide educational and nutritional information to help their athletes perform to the best of their ability
“There has never been a time in our history that I have been more optimistic about the possibilities and the future,” said Furnish, who had served as CEO since 2007. “The organization is thriving as we continue to expand our sports programs, support exponential growth in schools, bring athletes up as leaders, and dedicate ourselves to the health and fitness of athletes. And those of us who have worked with Jeff know his many gifts, work ethic and dedication to the cause we serve.”
Mohler said he hopes school-based programs lead to more people joining community-based programs.
“There is no retirement age for athletes or volunteers in Special Olympics,” Mohler said. “They might shift sports but there is something for everyone.”