Update - Feb. 7, 2018: The Special Olympics Alaska invites the community to attend a Celebration of Life in remembrance of leader Jim Balamaci.
SOAK announces that this memorial will take place Sunday, March 11 at 4 p.m., at the Alaska Airlines Center. In addition, the service will coincide with the Special Olympics Alaska Winter Games.
"All are welcome to come as we celebrate this legendary man’s life," writes Jessica Bjornstad, community public relations and fundraising manager with SOAK.
Original Story - Feb. 1, 2018: The longtime leader of Special Olympics Alaska, Jim Balamaci, died Thursday morning, the organization says.
"It is with a heavy heart that we share that our fearless leader Jim Balamaci passed away this morning," the organization wrote in a press release Thursday afternoon. "The Special Olympics Alaska Board and Staff are at a loss for words but we are here to support each other as a community."
Balamaci became President/CEO of SOAK in 1996. This was after he first became a volunteer in 1979, and later became a coach in the 1980s.
"Jim was much more than the head of the organization; he was a friend and mentor to each and every athlete," wrote SOAK.
Under Balamaci’s leadership, Alaska hosted the 2001 World Winter Games. And as a result, SOAK said this promoted awareness and funding for the Healthy Athletes Program and School Program.
In 2014, Special Olympics built a 28,000-square-foot Athlete Sports Training Center and Campus, which it says was one of Balamaci's most important goals.
As a recognized leader in his field, Balamaci also received several awards for his work.
"He constantly stressed the importance of inclusion and acceptance in our society of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," read the statement. "He fully dedicated his life to Special Olympics."
The board said SOAK will release details about Balamaci's memorial service at a later time.
In lieu of flowers, the SOAK family "asks that donations be made to the organization at specialolympicsalaska.org."