Special Olympics Helps Rockford Athlete Learn to Change and Adapt

Alex Kallenbach, 29, of Rockford, has Fragile X Syndrome and change makes him uncomfortable. However, since getting involved with Special Olympics in high school, “his ability to deal with change has improved steadily,” said his mother Angela Kallenbach.

Alex-4Angela’s story about how Special Olympics has affected her son was among the winners in Special Olympics Illinois’ Share Your Story contest. Read her winning story here.

Alex tried soccer when he was 8 years old, but “it didn’t work out too well,” said his mother. “He was overloaded” by all the sensory stimulation, she said, and he withdrew from sports.

When a fellow student brought up Special Olympics to Alex in high school, the family decided to give it a try. He joined the Rockford Red Hots and competes in basketball and athletics doing the 400-meter run and softball throw. The changes in Alex have been amazing – he has better coordination and balance and he’s more outgoing. He is shown above with Rockford Red Hots coach Don Vock,

Alex was very closed off when he was younger – he didn’t like being touched and he didn’t like noise, said Angela. “Now he connects with people. He can actually make eye contact, he doesn’t mind most noises and he’s cheering his team on. He’s really come a long way sensory-wise.”

“I have watched him grow and mature over the years to be the fine polite young man he is today,” said Red Hots head coach Mark Panozzo. “Alex is always on time for practice and very rarely misses a practice or game. He always gives 100 percent in practice whether competing in softball, basketball or track.”

Alex-6“It’s helped him socially too,” said Angela, adding that he and his teammates have made friendships and do things outside of Special Olympics like going to movies or going go-karting together.

“The one thing that stands out the most with Alex is that he is always clapping and cheering his teammates on when he is in the game or from the bench,” said Panozzo. “His enthusiasm is infectious through the whole team. Whether a teammate has struck out, missed a basket or lost a race, Alex will be the first one to console them and tell them its alright. I would say Alex is the perfect teammate.”

Sport through Special Olympics has taught Alex that things change all the time – sports seasons, plays and positions. “It has helped him learn to change and adapt,” said Angela. “And, every time he has an achievement, his self-esteem goes through the roof!”

Those changes in Alex have led to success for him on the job. He works through Goodwill Industries at the Federal Courthouse in Rockford doing light duty building maintenance – basically a mix of cleaning floors and windows, doing laundry and trash. “He’s not afraid to try something new. Without the skills he’s learned through Special Olympics, this would not be possible,” said Angela.

Alex is such a fixture at work that co-workers come to watch his events. “He’s such a personality guy and he involves other people in his life,” his mother said.

Special Olympics has also helped the family work together better, said Angela, adding her husband is teaching Alex to cook. “We use Special Olympics as a teaching tool for Alex. ‘What did your coach say about this?’ and try to relate it to whatever we’re dealing with at home.” Both of Alex’s sisters are also very supportive of his Special Olympics efforts, coming to watch when possible and following on social media too.

By Michele Evans, Director of Communications