MARTINSBURG (AP) — Peggy Molnar has never met a stranger or stopped smiling — even when times were tough.
Both of these qualities help explain how she has managed to succeed as a Special Olympic athlete and share her enthusiasm with others along the way.
Peggy, 17, a junior at Martinsburg High School, was selected as one of two 2019-20 Big 12 Special Olympics Athletes of the Year. She shared the honor with fellow Special Olympic athlete Jim Myers of Plano, Texas.
The presentation was made Dec. 7 at the Big 12 football championship game, where Oklahoma beat Baylor in overtime. West Virginia University is a Big 12 member.
The latest honor follows others, including having won a gold medal in the shot put in 2018 during the national games in Seattle.
“See? It's a ring. This is my Big 12 ring, and you can touch it. It even has my name on the side, and there's a real diamond on it,'' Peggy said as she proudly opened a box containing the memento from her latest athletic-related accomplishment.
“It was awesome seeing it for the first time. I went to Dallas, Texas, at the AT&T Stadium, and so many people already knew me there. “I got to be out on the 50-yard-line, and they took my picture a lot of times.''
“One lady came up to me and paid for my nachos.''
Closer to home, she keeps busy with other sports, including basketball, track and field, volleyball and bowling, but soccer is her favorite.
Because her childhood was not always easy, these victories are even sweeter, said Ken Dellinger, her father.
“She was in the system for 11 years, and that was such a long time. But now, she is living the best life,'' he said.
Peggy left Massachusetts six years ago to begin a new life filled with lots of love, hope and encouragement, said Ginnie Molnar, her mother, who has been involved with Special Olympics for 42 years.
It all began when Ginnie helped a middle-school friend, who also was a Special Olympic athlete, participate in a track meet, she said.
Sharing the experience has become even more special since her daughter joined the family, she said.
“She's always known she was adopted, and was excited about getting to come to West Virginia,'' Ginnie said, noting that her daughter first attended fifth grade at Eagle School Intermediate and since has thrived in the Berkeley County school district.
She also is happy working Saturdays at King's New York Pizza in Martinsburg, where she frequently makes her way from table to table — greeting old friends, smiling at new ones and often stopping for a hug from strangers.
“Typical teenager, but then again, that's just Peggy,'' Ginnie said with a chuckle. “She loves everyone, and everyone loves her back.
“It happened in Dallas, too, and it was really cool how many people knew her after the game. People in the lobby of the hotel where we stayed wanted their picture taken with her.
“In typical Peggy fashion, no player left without a hug after she did the coin toss at the beginning of the game. Maybe that will be a new Big 12 tradition.''
Peggy was selected for the latest honor because it was time for a West Virginia honoree from the Big 12, and her name was drawn, Ginnie said.
College is not far off, and plans include attending Shepherd University because “radio and television are my favorites,'' Peggy said.
“My mom says I am a celebrity, so I think that's a pretty good start,'' she said.