Photo by John F. Russell
Steamboat Springs' Pio Utu reacts by putting his hand over his heart Tuesday night after being presented with the 9Who Care Award in front of a large crowd at Steamboat Springs High School.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
It wasn't surprising that Pio Utu was oblivious to the hundreds of people walking into Kelly Meek Gymnasium at Steamboat Springs High School on Tuesday. It also wasn't surprising Utu had no idea he'd won the 9Who Care Award for December from Denver's 9 News.
No, Utu was busy doing the same thing he's been doing the past 25 years. While everyone was filing into the gymnasium to honor him, Utu helped a group of 15 student/athletes train.
The workouts were much like the ones Utu has done with Steamboat youths for the better part of two and a half decades. He helps them after school, before school, during the summers and whenever anyone gives him a call.
And Utu does it all for free.
"I think I'm speaking for everyone in the community," Steamboat soccer coach Rob Bohlmann told a crowd of more than 400 people Tuesday, "when I say there isn't anyone more deserving than you."
The 9Who Care Award is given to Coloradans who exemplify selflessness through volunteering. The Steamboat Springs High School Booster Club nominated Utu for the award. The Booster Club had several people - including Bohlmann - send letters of recommendation on behalf of Utu. The Steamboat Springs City Council also declared Tuesday "Pio Utu Day."
Utu's feature will air on 9 News at 5 a.m., 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday and at 7 a.m. Saturday. It also will be available at www.9news.com.
"His seemingly permanent happiness rubs off of all that come in contact with him, and his actions inspire kids and adults alike to reach out and help others," wrote Lane Shipley, a former Steamboat athlete who now plays football at Dartmouth. "Pio is a one-of-a-kind, truly remarkable person, and Steamboat is extremely fortunate to have him."
Utu, who admitted he was shocked to receive the award, struggled to find the words to express his thanks.
Alongside his wife and daughter, Utu - who received four standing ovations - recalled when he first arrived in Steamboat and the high school's weight lifting room had only one leg press machine. Now, after 25 years of shaping Steamboat athletes, Utu could only smile when he finally found the words.
"I really appreciate you guys showing up," he said. "What else can I say?"
For those who might be worried Utu will retire soon, he put those concerns to rest. Utu said his wife asked him Monday when he'll retire from volunteering, training and molding Steamboat's youths.
The answer came easily.
"Nah," Utu said. "I'm not going to do that."