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CCRI golfer finds success on and off the green
Aug. 28, 2014
Chris Lussier has been golfing for 17 years, making his mark on the CCRI golf team as well as the Special Olympics. This summer, he added another medal to his trophy case – the Unified Team gold medal from the Golf Level 3 Unified Team Tournament at the 2014 Special Olympics in West Windsor, New Jersey.
Lussier, who graduated from CCRI this spring with a Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Certificate with a concentration in hospitality management, said he comes from a golfing family and always loved the sport. But more important than the medals, the adrenaline – more than anything, he said – is the confidence he has been able to build in the process.
"I was picked on so much in high school," said Lussier, recalling how he got his start with the Special Olympics. Lussier, who has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism spectrum disorder, said that a chance connection with a friend brought him into the Special Olympics fold. "But sports helped me build self-esteem. You really can't judge a book by its cover."
When he came to CCRI as part of the Rhode Island Transition Academy after graduating from Cranston West in 2009, Lussier knew that he wanted to take the next step in his athletic career, and approached Athletic Director Joe Pavone about trying out for the golf team. With the support of both Pavone and the late Brian Deighan, who coached Lussier during most of his time on the team, he found solid footing as the team's No. 4 starter.
Lussier said that of all his experiences at CCRI, his career as a student-athlete was the most life-changing. "It proved to me that I could handle whatever challenges were thrown my way, and that I could persevere and really, truly make a name for myself," he said.
But part of what Lussier remembers most about his time at CCRI are the help and guidance he received from the athletics family as well as his professors. "I know everyone down in the field house," he said, recalling the fond memories and friendships that were forged during practice, competitions, and check-ins with friends and mentors.
When Lussier needed to take a year off of golf to focus on his studies, advisers such as Beverly Wiley, compliance officer for Athletics, and Associate Professor Candace Grist of the Administrative Office Technologies Department, helped him get a handle on study skills and course work.
"It's a great support system for student-athletes here," he said. "And my mom and dad kept pushing me to work hard so that I could go back to playing golf as a reward."
Ultimately, Lussier was able to get back on the green and make his mark for the Knights golf team while making his mark in the classroom, as well. With a remarkable memory and a love of customer service, Lussier knew that the hospitality management program would be a good fit for him and earning his will allow him to pursue a career as a concierge.
"I love talking to other people; I get along with others and I can always tell you a good food place to go to," he said. In the meantime, he's working doing "a little bit of everything" at the Glocester Country Club while he prepares to start sending résumés to area hotels.
But no matter where the ball lands for Lussier, he will always be an athlete. He said he hopes to continue as a Special Olympics athlete for as long as he's physically able, citing other athletes he has met who are in their 70s and 80s. It also presents a great opportunity to work with his father, who is head coach of the unified golf team. He said "it felt great" to be golfing while his father looked on in his most recent games, where he and partner Bob Paquette of West Greenwich won the Unified Team Gold medal.
And while Lussier has had the opportunity to compete in games as far flung as Athens, Greece, he said he'll always remember this most recent competition because he was "especially proud of the first-year players" and because it was rewarding to watch them and get to relive being a first-timer through their eyes. "It's really gratifying," he said.
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