Stewart Goes For The Gold

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The No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet of 2002 series champion Tony Stewart will sport an Olympic paint scheme at this weekend's GFS Marketplace 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

The car will feature images of athletes participating in the Olympic Job Opportunities Program who are currently representing the United States and Canada at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

The athletes featured on the car are weightlifter Tara Cunningham, javelin thrower Erica Wheeler, Paralympic swimmer Kirby Cote, volleyball player Jeff Nygaard and track & field participants Melissa Morrison and Mark Crear.

Of the current athletes on the United States, Canadian and Puerto Rican Olympic and Paralympic Teams, 71 of them are associates of The Home Depot. And through OJOP, The Home Depot allows Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls to work part time to accommodate their busy training and competition schedules while receiving full-time compensation and benefits to help offset their expenses.

"It's an honor to have these athletes on our Home Depot Chevrolet this weekend at Michigan," said Stewart, winner of the series' most recent race at Watkins Glen. "They are the embodiment of hard work and perseverance. They've made a ton of sacrifices to get to the Olympics, and this entire race team is behind them 100 percent. While they're going for the gold in Athens, we'll be going for another checkered flag in Michigan."

The Home Depot has employed more than 430 athletes through OJOP and similar programs since 1992, making it the largest OJOP employer. To date, more than 205 athlete-associates have competed in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, earning a total of 116 medals, including 48 gold, 43 silver and 25 bronze.

Here are short bios of the athletes featured on the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet this weekend at Michigan:

Tara Cunningham (Born 5/10/72): A native of Stillwell, Kan., Cunningham works in the paint department at The Home Depot in Mount Pleasant, Mich. In Sydney, Australia, during the 2000 Olympic Games - the first time the Olympic Games had a weightlifting event for women - Cunningham used her slight 105 pounds to pick up the first ever Olympic Gold Medal in women's weightlifting. She's been competing since 1995 and is the current American record holder in two different weight classes: 48 kg Snatch, 48 kg Clean and Jerk, 48 kg Total and 53 kg Snatch. She has rung up a long list of medals and honors, including being inducted into the Colorado College Alumni Hall of Fame.

Erica Wheeler (Born 11/28/67): A native of Sequim, Wash., Wheeler works in the special services department at The Home Depot in Chico, Calif. Wheeler has been throwing the javelin for more than 20 years. She is ranked amongst the top competitors in the United States and has held national records in the javelin at both the high school (189ƍ") and collegiate levels (192ƈ"). Her career also includes four Olympic trials, one World University Games team, one World Championship team and one Olympic team - all while competing in 16 consecutive U.S. Outdoor Championships.

Kirby Cote (Born 4/29/84): A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Cote works as a phone center associate at The Home Depot in Winnipeg. Cote burst onto the international swimming stage at the 2000 Paralympic Games where she won gold in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 individual medley, both in record time. She is the world record holder in the 50 breaststroke, 100 breaststroke, 200 breaststroke, 200 freestyle, 800 freestyle and 200 individual medley. Her goal at the 2004 Paralympic Games is to win eight gold medals, including six individual gold. Cote started swimming when she was five years old and began competing at age eight. She participated in swimming and gymnastics to help with her mobility as a visually impaired child. Cote has 10 percent vision in both eyes.

Melissa Morrison (Born 7/9/71): A native of Mooresville, N.C., Morrison works in the paint department at The Home Depot in Columbia, S.C. Morrison began running track in seventh grade before her high school coach made her a hurdler during her sophomore year. She won four North Carolina state titles as a prep. She has been the U.S. Indoor Champion for four years (1998-2002), the U.S. Outdoor Champion in 1997 and she earned the bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Jeff Nygaard (Born 8/13/72): A native of Madison, Wis., Nygaard works in the paint department at The Home Depot in Marina del Rey, Calif. Nygaard is a two-time U.S. Olympian, who began playing volleyball more than 14 years ago when he made the varsity program as a sophomore in high school. He went on to UCLA, where he became the first collegiate men's player to receive Player of the Year honors in two consecutive seasons. He competed on the beach for the first time in 2001 appearing in seven AVP events. He won the 2002 Hermosa Beach Open with Albert Hanneman and was made middle blocker on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. He also competed on the U.S. National Team for eight seasons (1993-2000).

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