Community Champions

Roberta Wachlin Program Director, REM Arrowhead
Grant Recipient, Special Olympics Duluth

When Roberta was 13 years old her best friend asked if she wanted to go swimming. When they got to the pool her friend told her, “we signed you up to volunteer.” There were 40 athletes at the pool that day and Roberta, or better known as “Coach Bert”, was matched with 3 athletes who were hearing impaired. That one day at the pool was the beginning of Roberta’s 36 years and counting with Special Olympics.

After being a swimming coach for several years, she was approached by Special Olympics because they needed a ski coach and a gymnastics coach. Roberta was neither a skier nor a gymnast, but she agreed and went through the training to become one. Similarly, when asked to be an Area Coordinator to organize tournaments for the over 1,500 athletes in the region Roberta did not hesitate to say yes. She jokingly said that her motto is “anything for a t-shirt.”

Roberta coordinates all of the teams in Duluth and in the surrounding area giving between 10 and 20 hours of her time per week. In Duluth she oversees 12 sports including aquatics, bocce, bowling, basketball, floor hockey, gymnastics, and more. She explained that she is surrounded by other dedicated volunteers who help build strong community bonds and help the athletes to achieve their dreams.

“Bert is well known in the community for her volunteerism and advocacy with Special Olympics,” said Ronna Butler, Regional Director, REM Arrowhead. “Coach Bert is seen as a person to go to if you have questions about how to become involved whether as an athlete or a volunteer.  The individuals she supports have an incredible sense of self-esteem, independence, and pride when they have participated in this activity.”

“It is a good time,” said Roberta. “I have coached for world and national games. The athletes have so much drive and want to be the best of who they are. I love to see the athletes motivated and achieving their personal best.”

To learn more about Special Olympics Duluth, please visit their website at