New Orleans Special Olympics athlete receives honorary ESPY

NEW ORLEANS --  For more than 17 years, Craig Blackburn has worked at his local grocery store. He owns his own home. He`s married. And he has Down syndrome.

In his free time, he enjoys bowling, among other sports, as part of Special Olympics Louisiana, where he now also serves on their Athlete Leadership Counsel.

"When I got into Special Olympics," Blackburn said, "it gets me energized with my friends."

"He definitely sets the bar high for other athletes and really sets an example for them to follow," said Special Olympics Director of Communications and Marketing Casey Minton.

Craig`s list of accomplishments goes on, but one of the major highlights is his passion to be a motivational speaker. He has traveled the country and even internationally, speaking on inclusion, ability and full participation in life.

"I mentor a lot of them to encourage them that you can do it and never give up," Blackburn said.

In conjunction with the ESPY`s Arthur Ashe Courage Award, Craig was selected as one of 25 Special Olympics athletes -- in the entire nation -- to receive an honorary ESPY. His coach, Ann Hulse, surprised him with the award.

"We couldn't think of anybody better in our area than you," Hulse said. "We have an ESPN Award and you have a beautiful letter from them. We're very proud of you."

"He really stood-out with him accomplishments and he's always got a great spirit and a great smile and he's a phenomenal athlete," Minton said.

"The good thing about it is it shows other people that don't ever limit yourself," said Blackburn's mother Pat Ehrle. "I'm proud of his accomplishments but the thing I'm most proud of is that he is the absolute best person he could be."