The summer months of 2023 are flying by. If you can believe it, an entire month has passed since the start of the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany.
An entire month since approximately 7,000 Special Olympics athletes from 190 delegations, 20,000 volunteers, and countless more supporters spent nine days being “unbeatable together.”
On Saturday, June 17, these world-class competitors gathered for Opening Ceremony inside the Olympic Stadium in Berlin – each ready with possibility. All of the hard work leading up to the games led to this momentous evening of celebration and excitement, which featured Parade of Athletes, notes from SOI President Timothy Shriver, Athlete Oath, lighting of the flame, and finally, fireworks.
Part of this celebration were 14 individuals from Illinois – four Special Olympics USA delegates and 10 additional representatives – who were prepared to proudly represent their state and country on the world stage. And they did just that.
Colleen “Sets a Precedent”
As competition began swiftly on Sunday, June 18, Region J athlete and Special Olympics USA delegate, Colleen Costello, kicked it into high gear, setting a “high precedent” for the rest of her delegation and teammates.
Colleen competed in her specialty sport, rhythmic gymnastics, earning her first World Games gold medal in all-around.
In an article by Special Olympics USA, Colleen remarked that the medal “’was really heavy. It was a heavy moment.’ With her family and her team in the audience, she celebrated that victory with the ones she loves most.” A moment of pride particularly for her coach, Mary Fehrenbach.
Colleen went on to also earn gold in hoop, ribbon, and rope, plus a silver in clubs. Read the full Special Olympics USA article here.
Drew and Rob Take Home Bronze
Later in the week, it was the gentlemen’s turn to leave an impression. On Thursday, June 22, Region G athlete and Unified partner and Special Olympics USA delegates, Drew White and Rob Kelley, competed in the tennis doubles match, which could potentially secure their spot on the awards podium.
Drew and Rob are a Unified pair, which consists of one individual with intellectual disability and one without. The two have played together for nine years.
In an article by The Pantagraph, Rob stated, “’Drew has been so good for me. He probably doesn’t realize it, but more than I have added to his program, he has given me so much energy. [Drew] gives it his all on every point. That and court coverage are his two biggest strengths.’”
And this team chemistry proved effective at World Games Berlin. Together, Drew and Rob won bronze and got to stand together on the podium.
Read the full article by The Pantagraph here.
But Drew wasn’t finished there. In additional to qualifying for the games in Unified tennis doubles, Drew also had his shot to compete in traditional tennis singles.
On Friday, June 23, Drew faced down his opponent in the bronze medal match for the second time. Again, he earned a spot on the podium. Drew excitedly returned home to the states with not just one, but two World Games bronze medals to his name. Not to mention the new friends and memories he made throughout.
Illinois Shows Up and Shows Out
Carolyn Cronin, Special Olympics Illinois Director of Coach & Health Services and Special Olympics USA delegate, served as sport manager throughout the event. Specifically, she was in charge of managing the schedules of four different teams, including basketball, tennis, and volleyball.
"What was really neat about these games was that our housing location was in the heart of Berlin. Teams could walk to and see so many great historical sites when they weren't competing," Carolyn said. "It's always great to see new relationships develop over the weeks spent abroad. It proved that we all smile in the same language."
Behind the scenes, Special Olympics Illinois staff members Dan Conley, Molly Dill, and Mike Rackov spent their time on the Subject Matter Expert Team for Special Olympics Connect, the games management software responsible for managing all athletes’ records and event information.
Their days were long, working to create competition divisions and scheduling for preliminary and final rounds in rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, as well as bocce. In fact, they scheduled a total of 787 individual bocce matches for the games!
Dan Conley, Special Olympics Illinois Senior Director of Strategic Planning Partner, said World Games was “an experience like no other.”
Two Athlete Leaders from Illinois, Daniel Smrokowski and Lisa Noble, had the opportunity to display their leadership skills during World Games Berlin.
Daniel Smrokowski served as one of only three athletes from North America, and one of ten athletes globally, in the capacity of Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger (SSIGM).
Even though his schedule was packed throughout the nine-day event, Daniel says his top highlights included the opportunity to be on stage with his fellow SSIGMs, speaking at the Global Youth Leadership Summit, and hosting a panel discussion after the Berlin screening of All You Can Hear Is Noise.
“I’m grateful to be able to connect with my SSIGM family through the many engagements we had in Berlin,” Daniel said.
Lisa Noble served on the Global Athlete Congress, a platform where Special Olympics athletes lead the way to a more inclusive world.
“During the trip, I met and learned from other Athlete Leaders from all over the world,” Lisa said. She even had the opportunity to run for the next Global Athlete Congress Chair along with 16 fellow Athlete Leaders. Lisa presented a year-long project of hers, which involved having Athlete Leaders participate in paid athlete fellowships.
“Even though I was not selected for the chair position, I was able to show how much I believe in Athlete Leadership and how much I would like to expand my skills and opportunities,” Lisa said.
Daniel and Lisa worked closely with Special Olympics Illinois Director of Athlete Leadership and Family Initiatives, Karen Milligan, who accompanied them on the trip to Berlin.
Also representing Illinois included Diane VanderKooy and Amber Dunn, members of the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run, who took part in the World Games Berlin Final Leg Run. Bob Reczek and Jerry Blum, long-time volunteers at Special Olympics Illinois, went as officials for the games. Jennifer Hitt was a Global Sports Advisor for artistic gymnastics, and Laura Baumgardner attended as an honored guest.
The overall consensus on the 2023 Special Olympics World Games Berlin experience was: unforgettable. Out of the 7,000 Special Olympics and 20,000 volunteers present, those from Illinois truly made their mark on the games, and on the world.
Join us welcoming home these individuals from Illinois and always continuing to #Cheer4USA!
To view photos from the event, click here.