To the Special Olympics Illinois Community,

Gratitude, I’ve come to realize, can also be a verb. There’s been so much action in the past year at Special Olympics Illinois, and I have each of you to thank for that. This time of year, it’s easy to be what I like to call, “retroactively grateful.” It’s easy to be grateful regarding the past, and maybe, a little harder to be grateful in the present. Sometimes, I find myself grateful for the future, too.

It’s these three parts of gratitude I find myself in as I announce my upcoming retirement in December 2023.

I’m grateful to have spent more than 30 years with Special Olympics Illinois. It’s an easy thing to be grateful for, I have to say. Our athletes and families have been at the forefront of our cause since day one, and I’m grateful that the same is true today.   The growth and continued relevancy of our organization in respect to our athletes is breathtaking.

Through the start of our Unified Champion Schools, we’ve seen more and more National Banner Schools, which means we’ve taken inclusive school environments to the highest level. Our athlete leaders have led nationally and internationally not only in Special Olympics but in companies like United, Amazon, Hyatt and Steak 48. It is our athletes whom I am most grateful for, as they have been the true leaders of our organization.

If we focus in on the past year, I find even more gratitude. We saw the return of the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games in June 2022. After two long years, the immense feeling of celebration turned into gratitude as we welcomed 2,500 athletes back to Bloomington-Normal. We also sent a delegation of more than 100 athletes, coaches and Unified partners to compete against teams from across the nation at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida.

I’m grateful to say the team did pretty well. In fact, they earned a combined 156 medals and ribbons.

Just last week, I had the pleasure of announcing Rockford Public Schools as our second designation of our Unified Champion City Schools initiative. In 2021, Special Olympics Illinois led the way for more inclusive schools as we announced the first ever Unified Champion City School designation in Chicago. Last Thursday, Rockford joined that list.   Our programming remains as strong and relevant as ever. This November, we hosted the second Athlete Leadership Academy in Chicago. MedFest also makes its return this month, as hundreds of athletes will attend one of two events hosted in Chicagoland, to receive the care and treatment they’ve come to rely upon from Special Olympics Illinois.

I’m grateful to share this moment, with you now, and know that my work is not done in my final year here. It’s hard to not be grateful about this organization’s future.   We’ll be hosting the 2023 International Law Enforcement Torch Run Conference here in home, sweet home, Chicago. I know our team is going to make it a spectacular event.

I also know our delegates will represent us well at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.

Finally, we look forward to another full year back in action. This year we hosted 190 competitions throughout the state. I’ve personally talked to team members about striving to host more, recruit more athletes, and make sure Special Olympics Illinois is serving as many eligible athletes as possible throughout Illinois.

I hope you enjoy this week reflecting on things you’re thankful for. My role with Special Olympics Illinois will eternally top my list. From someone who started out as a volunteer in 1986, and now leaves as CEO, all I have is gratitude.

Thank you,


Dave Breen