A Father’s Perspective on Special Olympics Illinois

How the organization has influenced not only my daughter, but also my entire family.

By Ken Walker

My daughter, Emilee Walker, got her start with Special Olympics Illinois fifteen years ago when her teacher asked her if she would like to join the Special Olympics bowling team. Emilee took a leap of faith and said yes.

While Emilee was competing we volunteered at the tournament. Our family ended up loving the experience so much that we met the Region Director, Cathy Betar, and were asked to help with future tournaments. That day marked the beginning of a life-long journey with Special Olympics Illinois. Fifteen years later and we are still volunteering at various events.

Over that time, our family has had many memories to cherish. Emilee has such a strong love for bowling, so much so she wishes she could live at the bowling alley. Both the sport and Special Olympics have helped Emilee to see that she is not alone.

Competing with Special Olympics Illinois has given my daughter a sense of community. She has come to realize that her fellow athletes are accepting of her for who she is despite her disability.

Because of Special Olympics sports like bowling and track and field, our whole family began making friendships.

In 2014, Emilee was chosen to represent Illinois at the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. There she competed in bowling and won a gold, silver, and bronze medal. USA Games were one of many firsts for Emilee. She flew on an airplane for the first time and saw the Statue of Liberty. Her favorite part of the entire experience was the opening ceremony where every delegation was highlighted as they walked in. As parents, we could not be more proud!

In 2016, Emilee took another big step and became a Global Messenger. The Athlete Leadership program has helped her gain the confidence to tell her story. Emilee has made several speeches at large events, as well as been featured on local TV to help promote fundraisers for the organization. 

Special Olympics Illinois is not just an organization dedicated to individuals with disabilities, nonetheless a family- a wonderful family to us. If someone in our Special Olympics family is hurting, we are there to console them. If they are celebrating a happy moment, we are there to celebrate with them. If they are doing a fundraiser of any kind, we are there volunteering to support Special Olympics Illinois. 

With all of this said, our family could not have foreseen the incredible impact the organization has made on not only Emilee, but also our entire family. Register at your family table, you won’t regret it.