The Florida Panthers Foundation's Community Champions Grant Program allows charitable organizations throughout South Florida to request financial support for programs and initiatives that are benefiting our community. Here are their stories.
Like the Florida Panthers, Special Compass know that you can't always win something alone.
Michael Sayih, a quadriplegic who was born with cerebral palsy, founded Special Compass with the assistance of his father, Jim Sayih, with the intention of creating life-changing experiences for the differently-abled by promoting inclusion in the community through athletic events.
On Dec 21, Michael and 23 other members of Special Compass visited BB&T Center.
"The inception of Special Compass actually started with Michael and I," said Jim Sayih, who serves as the organization's executive director. "Michael started his first duathlon race at the age of five with his brother. The three of us ran it, biked it, and we realized at that point that Michael loved doing at athletes. We've included him in a variety."
From marathons to Iron Man competitions, Special Compass pairs differently-abled athletes like Michael with Power Buddies. These buddies -- compromised of friends, family and volunteers -- are there to provide the horsepower to match the heart of their wheelchair-bound partners.
What started out as a family endeavor, however, quickly grew into something much larger.
"There came a point when other parents were asking me to push their kids," Sayih said. "But then I was leaving Michael out. That's when I thought to myself, "I need to start recruiting other parents and friends to start pushing other differently abled people.' That's how it started. We started to get together a group of different athletes and matching them with differently-abled athletes. And before you know it, we had created our foundation, Special Compass."
In addition to a tour of the arena, the group of 12 differently-abled athletes and their 12 power buddies also spoke with Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson and his girlfriend Emily Pfalzer, a fellow defenseman who helped Team USA win gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
For almost an hour, Matheson and Pfalzer answered questions and shared stories with the group of interested athletes. From how they prepare for games to dealing with injuries and adversity, they covered topics on life both on and off the ice before handing out autographed pucks and gift bags full of Panthers-branded goodies.
"That was really, really cool to be a part of," said Matheson. "The group that Emily and I spoke with was super amazing. You could tell that they had so much energy and so much drive. It was super inspirational to be able to interact with them.
"Walking away from it, it's one of those things where it feels even better for me than it might for them. To be able to just sit down and talk with them, interact with them and take pictures with them. You can tell they're very, very special people and it was very cool to meet them."
The following night, the Florida Panthers Foundation Community Champions Grant Program, presented by Moss Construction and the Moss Foundation, awarded $24,900 to Special Compass during the first period of Florida's win over the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 22.
"If we could all do backflips we would do it," Sayih said of the donation.
Sayih said grant money will go towards building seven specially-crafted racing wheelchairs. These wheelchairs come with arms that attach to bicycles so that power buddies can pull their partners during events. The arms can also be detached so that the runner can also go behind the wheelchair and push. They're lightweight, fast and, most importantly, comfortable.
"When you go across a finish line with someone that is depending on your power and athleticism, it's a reciprocal benefit," Sayih said. "Those who are pushing, our power buddies, come back for more. They're asking to participate in new events and how they can help. It's just an endless cycle of wanting to give. You give up your athleticism, you give up your heart, you give up your friendship."
With these new state-of-the-art wheelchairs and many more marathons on the horizon, the future of Special Compass, as well as its newfound relationship with the Panthers, is certainly brighter than ever.
"When you have those with disabilities that are doing more, others are attracted to this," Sayih said. "People want to help more and more and give to each other. What better environment and community do you want to be in?"