2007 Special Olympics world champion receives replacement for gold medal lost in 2021 tornado

Representative Guthrie presented the medal to Williams during a brief ceremony at the local city hall.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 6:49 PM EDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Many Kentuckians lost everything from the 2021 tornadoes, but one local family was able to replace what they believed to be lost forever today.

Natalie Williams, a point guard for the 2007 world champion Special Olympics basketball team, received a replacement for her gold medal that was lost in the storms.

Like many families, the tornadoes decimated the Williams family’s home. Jim Williams, Natalie’s father, said that it took first responders over 30 minutes to dig the family out of the rubble remaining in their home.

“When it hit, we were asleep. Luckily, we’re alive. House was flat, I mean nothing left, brick and everything,” he said.

Once cleared from the home, the search for Natalie’s medal, and the rest of the family’s belongings, began.

“We tried to look for it, we went yard by yard, trying everywhere around the neighborhood but we could not find it anywhere. So we decided to try to have the replacement medal to be able to remember my friends that I love and care about,” said Natalie.

The search for a replacement began with a chance encounter between Jim Williams and U.S. Representative, Brett Guthrie.

“Jim came to me, we were at church together, and he said, you know, ‘Natalie lost her gold medal,” said Guthrie. “I thought we were gonna have this done pretty quickly, because I thought, for sure they must have extra medals. Turns out, they don’t!”

Through luck, and a series of connections, including Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, an original medal from the 2007 games in Shanghai, China, was found.

“They literally chased down their old office in Shanghai, where they ran it, and there was one in a drawer. So, it’s the only medal out there that we know… this could be the last medal out there from the Shanghai 2007,” said Guthrie.

Representative Guthrie presented the medal to Williams during a brief ceremony at the local city hall. Williams said she feels lucky to have the award back after working hard to prepare for the team’s victory in the games.

“I trained, really every single day, lifting weights, jogging basketball courts every day 24/7 almost to build muscle up, to build strength up in my legs to stay on the court 24/7 with my teammates to win the gold medal like we have had,” she said.

Now that she’s received her replacement medal, she plans to frame it and keep it in a safe place as a memento of her experience in Shanghai with her friends.