Jim Balamaci, the longtime president of Special Olympics Alaska, died unexpectedly Thursday morning. He was 63 years old.

Special Olympics Alaska spokeswoman Jessica Bjornstad announced Balamaci's death in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Special Olympics Alaska president and CEO Jim Balamaci died Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 at the age of 63. (Courtesy Special Olympics Alaska)

"The Special Olympics Alaska board and staff are at a loss for words but we are here to support each other as a community," Bjornstad wrote.

Special Olympics Alaska board member Paul Landes, GCI’s senior vice president of customer services, mourned Balamaci’s loss Thursday.

“At this point, I think shock is the emotion in the forefront,” said Landes, who is slated to take over as the board’s chair from dentist Dr. Charlie Michael. “We all have to process and it’s going to be hard.”

According to Balamaci’s LinkedIn page, he had served as the nonprofit group’s president and CEO since January 1996.

Balamaci was instrumental in organizing events such as the annual Polar Plunges held across Alaska as benefits for Special Olympics. At December’s plunge in Anchorage, which drew more than 1,000 people into the chilly waters of Goose Lake, he said the event has grown in each of its nine years to date.

Balamaci’s defining characteristic, according to Landes, was his loyalty to the Alaskans he met.

“Jim had the ability to engage people like nobody I have ever met,” Landes said. “When Jim became your friend, Jim became your friend.”

Editor’s note: GCI is KTVA’s parent company.

Heather Hintze and John Thompson contributed information to this story.

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