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Athlete Spotlight, Nick Hiti

The stadium fell silent; Nicholas (Nick) Hiti had the gathered crowd in the palm of his hand. Nick was at the microphone to sing the National Anthem and launch the 2023 Fall State Games, and from moment one, everyone realized ‘this guy can sing!’ and didn’t want to miss a single note of a very familiar song.

Nick is a Special Olympics Oregon athlete, a singer, and a Southern Oregon Polar Plunge Ambassador. A Jackson County participant for over a decade, Nick participates in numerous sports, including basketball, golf, softball, bowling, and volleyball. Outside of a busy sports schedule, he works at Advantage Tire in Medford and tirelessly fundraises for Polar Plunge and the annual Walk-A-Thon.

It’s a family affair for the Hiti’s, with dad (Tom) and mom (Nancy) supporting the local program, and brother (Tim) playing as a Unified Partner with Nick’s basketball team when he was in high school. Tim is now a Christian school administrator in Pennsylvania.

Nick first started singing at a young age in church, working with a song leader. Singing brings him joy, but his true enjoyment stems from how it makes others feel. “I just love singing,” he said, “I like making people happy.” He loves singing church songs the most, his favorite being ‘Amazing Grace’, however he says he’ll “sing a tune along with the radio if I know the song!”

He has become a known force around Special Olympics Oregon for his raw talent, singing the national anthem at numerous events, including Summer State Games (returning in the summer of 2024!), and various competitions around Jackson County.

Of all the sports he competes in, basketball is his favorite. Why? “I like meeting other teams and enjoy my teammates interacting,” he said, “I like more physical sports and playing with other people.” He also relishes playing golf and takes pride in the training it takes, playing with his dad as a teammate. “Golf takes a lot of effort and practice to do,” he said.

Special Olympics Oregon’s largest fundraiser of the year, the annual Polar Plunge series, takes place in six cities, and Nick is a key fundraiser for the Medford plunge, raising over $1,000 individually and participating for the past 14 years. “I get funds from my church friends who sponsor me,” he said, “and my co-workers (at Advantage Tire) support me too.” He is a spokesperson around the county for the Southern Oregon plunge, visiting key sponsors like Lithia Motors to hype up the event, and plunges with the Medford PD Blue Crew.

One of Nick’s lifetime highlights was being named the Special Olympics Oregon Athlete of the Year in 2015 and being honored at the Oregon Sports Awards ceremony at Nike. He met and got autographs and photos with various sports legends at the event, including sportscaster Neil Everett, Olympic Gold medalist high jumper Dick Fosbury, originator of the ‘Fosbury Flop’, and Scott Brosius, who played third base with the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees. “Marcus (Mariota) was honored at the event too but couldn’t be there,” said Nick. Despite the caliber of famed talent he was amongst, Nick said “I felt excited. I wasn’t nervous to give my speech.”

Recalling the event, Tom said “it was so great for Nick when he won. It was broadcast throughout the state of Oregon. A very cool moment. We got to go backstage, and I have a great photo of him holding the trophy up in the air next to Neil Everett.”

What advice would Nick give to anyone wanting to join the Special Olympics Oregon community? “I tell people, just like the polar plunge, to jump in. You are helping an athlete like me to raise money. If you don’t jump in, you are letting the athlete down. I tell them to give it a shot. Just give it a try.”