“Special Olympics Illinois has greatly impacted Austin’s life,” says Debbie Sawalski, mother and coach of Region A athlete, Austin Sawalski. “His ability to focus, socialize, follow directions, and do what he loves to do in an environment where he can succeed” are all examples of this impact, said Debbie.

Austin first got involved in Special Olympics Illinois when he was 13 years old, back in 2000. According to his mom, Austin now plays “every sport.” Lately though, it’s been bocce, softball, bowling, flag football, volleyball, and basketball. Which is his favorite? “All of the sports,” states Austin.

Debbie is not just mother to Austin, but she also goes by the name of “Coach.” Debbie has coached Austin’s team, the Rockford Red Hots, for several years now and focuses mainly on volleyball and bocce. She believes in “one-on-one” help and visual learning, stating “you have to make practices fun.”

“I have enjoyed every aspect of coaching,” Debbie says. “To see the athletes improve in their skills is so rewarding.” Specifically, she says her motto for athletes is “to do the best that they can and help each other. That’s what it’s all about – teamwork!”

In fact, her son shares a similar motto when it comes to competing. “Austin’s motto is to do the best that he possibly can,” says Debbie. “It’s not always about winning. It’s about doing your best and helping others.”

Austin’s father, Greg, has also taken part in his son’s journey over the years with Special Olympics Illinois – not as a coach, but as a fellow competitor. Greg has been Austin’s Unified partner in bocce since Austin began playing the sport several years ago.

“Austin enjoys playing with his dad,” said Debbie. To Greg, it is extremely rewarding getting to witness Austin’s skills improving and his knowledge of the game increasing. This weekend, though, Greg will be on the sidelines cheering on his wife and son as they compete in traditional volleyball during 2023 Fall Games.

“Special Olympics Illinois is Austin’s whole life! He so looks forward to his sports and having something in which he feels he can succeed,” concluded Debbie.

Click here to learn more about 2023 Fall Games or to view the schedule of events.