Emily Matlack-Hodges, an El Dorado Hills resident and Special Olympics athlete who was an international ambassador for people with intellectual disabilities, died Nov. 16. She was 31.
Mrs. MatlackHodges was on vacation with her family in Nashville, Tenn., when she died suddenly of a ruptured aorta caused by Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that had been undetected, said her father, Paul Matlack.
For the past 16 years, Mrs. Matlack-Hodges was active in Special Olympics as an athlete, mentor and spokeswoman. Starting in bowling at 15, she went on to compete and win medals in 11 sports, including basketball, bocce, golf, powerlifting, swimming, and track and field. She also coached younger athletes in many sports.
She played on a softball team that won the silver medal at the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Raleigh, N.C. In 2001, she won gold and silver medals in cross-country skiing at the World Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska.
"When she succeeded in one sport, it made her willing to try another and then she knew she could succeed in other things," her father said. "It gave her a chance to focus on her ability, not her disability."
Besides her skills as a 6-foot-2 athlete, Mrs. Matlack-Hodges stood out for her bright smile, optimism and graciousness. From 2004 to 2006, she represented the United States and Special Olympics as one of 12 athletes chosen from around the world to serve as Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers.
She spoke in 2005 at the Founder's Reception hosted by Eunice Kennedy Shriver at world games in Nagano, Japan. In 2006, she addressed a gym crowd of 17,000 at national games in Ames, Iowa. In 2005, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to a six-year term on the State Council on Developmental Disabilities.
She spoke to audiences about the mission of Special Olympics and its importance in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. She inspired others with her personal story about a shy teenager with few friends who learned to try new activities, overcame self-doubts and made countless friends through Special Olympics.
"It gives me the confidence that I can go out into the community and hold down a job," she told The Bee in 2005.
Born in 1981 in Mountain View, Emily Jane Matlack moved with her family to the Sacramento area in 1988. She was the youngest of three daughters raised by Heidi Matlack, an IBM employee, and Paul Matlack, a high school teacher.
She graduated from Oak Ridge High School and worked for 12 years at Round Table Pizza. She met Douglass Hodges, a Special Olympics athlete, at games 12 years ago. They married 14 months ago.
"It was the happiest day of her life," her father said.