By Randy Kindred

Amanda Gonzalez’s progress on the court is easy to track. A 22-year-old from Aurora, she has piled up Special Olympics gold medals in impressive fashion. 

“I have 19,” she said during the Special Olympics Illinois State Tennis Tournament on Saturday, August 20, at Bloomington’s Evergreen Racquet Club.  

A few hours later, Gonzalez added to her collection, earning her 20th gold medal with a 6-0, 6-0 victory in the finals of her division. 

So when she says, “I’m getting better,” the statistics – and medals – bear her out. 

Yet, what Gonzalez has gained through Special Olympics Illinois competition cannot be fully measured in gold.  

“She has met a lot of friends through this,” said LeAnn Gonzalez, Amanda’s mother. “She played four years of high school (Waubonsie Valley High School) and that inclusion was huge for that. She has a lot of peer friends through tennis.” 

Gonzalez made her first trip to state in middle school, competing in the skills competition. She picked up the game quickly and soon was playing Unified doubles and singles.  

“After regionals (the first year), she had us going every night after dinner to the high school to hit and practice because she loved it,” LeAnn Gonzalez said. 

More recently, Amanda was hitting balls with her mother and father, Larry, in preparation for the state tournament, 11 years after beginning her tennis journey.  

Two against one may not seem fair, but … 

“Both of us were on one side of the court and she was playing us and guess who won?” LeAnn said. 

Amanda is winning off the court as well. She participated in Project Search last year at Central DuPage Hospital. After three 10-week internships, the goal was to land paid inclusive employment. Amanda was hired at Tap In Pub in Naperville and works in the kitchen, washing dishes, rolling silverware, etc. 

In October, she and her parents traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for Amanda to compete in the North American Championships. It was her second appearance in the tournament. 

“She just loves to play,” Larry Gonzalez said. “She enjoys competition, so we’ve seen her grow. Now she’s learning the strategy of the game. Before it was just hitting and playing. Now, she’s getting it down the lines and that sort of thing.” 

Special Olympics Illinois serves more than 21,000 athletes and 9,000 Young Athletes throughout the state. You can help them realize their full potential in sports and in life by signing up for the 2023 Illinois LETR Polar Plunge. BE COOL and sign up today at plungeillinois.com.