Crystal Lake Girl Turns Birthday Presents Into Coaster Challenge Donations

When Ashlyn Janelle (AJ) Cook of Crystal Lake turns 10 later this month, she isn’t looking for presents. Instead, she asks her loved ones to consider paying it forward for her birthday.

AJ Cook
AJ Cook

On Sept. 27, Special Olympics Illinois will partner with Six Flags Great America for the 2nd Annual Coaster Challenge – just two days before AJ’s 10th birthday party where she is asking guests make donations to her team called “AJ’s Extreme Birthday Dream.”

“When AJ heard about the Coaster Challenge on Sept. 27 (her birthday is the Sept. 30) and heard it was for the Special Olympics, she immediately thought of her cousin Landon,” said AJ’s mom, Katie Cook.

AJ's cousin Landon is her inspiration for participating in the Coaster Challenge
AJ’s cousin Landon is her inspiration for participating in the Coaster Challenge

AJ looks forward to someday cheering her cousin on from the sidelines as he competes in Special Olympics. Spending the day at Six Flags Great America in honor of her family member felt like the perfect way to celebrate her birthday, so AJ jumped at the chance to sign up for the Coaster Challenge.

She continues to pursue neighbors, families and friends for donations.

“This is the first time we’ve gotten season passes at Six Flags and we’ve loved going to the park a bunch this summer to hit the coasters!” said Katie.

AJ also convinced her family to participate on her team, too. AJ’s Extreme Birthday Dream is comprised of AJ, Katie, father Robb, sisters Chloe and Savannah, and uncle Nate. She will strive to ride a marathon while the rest of her family hopes to finish the 5K.

AJ has raised just over $700 so far ($100 online and over $600 offline) and hopes to reach her $1,500 goal. To support her team, or any of the teams participating in the event, please visit

She is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this event. “I am so excited to ride the coasters, but am more excited to raise moolah for the especially amazing Special Olympics!” says the birthday girl.

AJ continues, “This is better than getting presents because I always have no idea what I want and I can’t wait to someday see my cool cousin Landon be in the Special Olympics!”

By Alexandra McMillin, Manager of Communications