By Randy Kindred
Victory is not limited by age or even where you finish in competition. That was as clear as the blue sky Saturday during the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games in Normal.
Victory is in the heart and mind. It is doing your best, relishing the opportunity, connecting with fellow athletes and smiling along the way.
Examples were everywhere in the three-day event that attracted more than 3,000 athletes, 1,000 coaches and 40 Unified partners.
Among them was Sullivan Ackerman, an eight year old from Schaumburg District 54 who narrowly made the minimum age limit for state competition. Ackerman turned eight on the Saturday of his district’s Spring Games.
He qualified for the state 50-meter run and placed fourth Saturday. By far, he was the smallest and youngest competitor in his race. Afterward, he celebrated with a smile while holding up four fingers.
“He was half their size, but he ran with them the whole time,” said his coach, Austin Hewett. “I thought he would do awesome, just like in practice. Every time, he just runs with a smile on his face and all we expect is for him to try his hardest.
“Whether it’s first (place) or 12th or 10th or whatever it is, if they try their best and have a good attitude, that’s all we’ll ever ask. He has such a cool attitude.”
Nearby, in the softball throw at Illinois State University’s Adelaide Street Field, Koby Campbell-Jones was commended for his attitude as well.
Campbell-Jones, nine, jumped from his chair in celebration when his name was announced for placing second. He flashed a broad smile in the awards area, flexing his muscles as his coach, John Lewis, agency director for SPEED 802 in Chicago Heights, took his photo.
Shortly after, Lewis praised Campbell-Jones for his positive attitude, exchanging a high five with him.
“He struggles at times with behavior issues, but he redirected himself and got his attitude together,” Lewis said. “He enjoyed the fireworks (Friday night) and he showed a lot of sportsmanship with the other athletes.
“The attitude, the joy, the happiness is way more important than winning because he’s already a winner when he steps in the arena. It’s such an honor and a joy just to see them compete and be happy and find a purpose.”
Mike Brennan of Monmouth has known the thrill of competing for more than five decades. Yet, at 60 years old, he remains excited every time.
Brennan won a gold medal Saturday morning in the 10-meter assisted walk race. He later competed in the softball throw.
His participation is limited to those events because of a broken neck suffered in the 1980s, leading to five cervical spine surgeries.
He competed in basketball, volleyball and multiple track and field events prior to his injury. Now, his focus is on his events Saturday and on ramp bowling in the fall and winter.
Brennan’s sister, Cathy Brennan-Betar, is director for Region F. Their nephew, Connor Brennan, also competes in Special Olympics Illinois.
“He does pretty good,” Mike said.
Region F held its 50th Spring Games this year in Monmouth. Mike Brennan competed and also was a competitor in the region’s first Spring Games. He is the face of the Warren County Falcons and was bestowed an honor at this year’s Spring Games.
“I did the torch,” he said proudly.
It was special and, yes, a victory.
Those making an impact at the Summer Games included a five-year-old service dog named Lacey.
Lacey serves 22-year-old Cline Smith of Rushville. Smith competed in two events Friday, winning a gold medal and earning a fourth place. He has autism and an asthma condition.
Lacey, a rescue dog, helps comfort Smith.
“She helps with anxiety … calms him down,” said Angela Smith, Cline’s mother. “She has been a huge help. He will lay with her or hold her.”