Celebrity Ambassadors Stories

Apolo Ohno Podcast Interview


 

Learn what what Apolo Ohno learned from sports and more on this episode of Special Chronicles!


Joe Mantegna Reads Baby’s Day Out


 

We have had such great turnout from so many different celebrities and friends reading to our Young Athletes! Today, we bring you a special book reading! Chicago native and Criminal Minds actor Joe Mantegna reads Baby’s Day Out! And you might just catch a glimpse of him in the movie too. Thanks Joe!


9th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball All-Star Game


 

By Daniel Smrokowski, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger & Special Olympics Illinois Athlete Leader

From L to R: Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, Nate Wade (SOCO), Carrie Nykiel (SOIL) and Horace Grant

On Friday, February 14, I had an opportunity to be an athlete reporter at the 9th annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game at NBA All-Star 2020 in Chicago. I attended this event, along with my SSIGM mentor & Chief Marketing Officer from Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) Chris Winston and two other marketing & communications staff from SO Illinois, Alex & Bridget. During the Unified game, we sat courtside to watch the exciting game. I was honored and grateful to attend this star-studded sporting event, especially since basketball is one of my favorite sports in Special Olympics to compete in.

Here I am posing with my SOILL colleagues. From L to R: Chris, Alex and Bridget.

This Special Olympics Unified Game took place at the Wintrust Arena on Chicago’s south side during NBA All-Star Week, right before the Celebrity Game. In case you missed the thrilling #NBAAllStar2020 Unified game in the Windy City, the action was streamed live on the NBA’s Facebook page.

We had ten fellow Special Olympics athletes from across our Special Olympics North America Region, one athlete from Special Olympics Belgium (SO Europe-Eurasia Region), and one athlete from Special Olympics South Korea (Special Olympics East Asia Region). The teams were divided into two — the East Team (Home) and the West Team (Away). Both teams consisted of five Special Olympics athletes per team and celebrity Unified partners. Each team also had volunteer celebrity coaches. The number “24” was branded on the upper left breast of every athlete’s uniform in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, former L.A. Lakers professional athlete.

Sean Annan from SO British Columbia takes on Injae Kim from SO Korea.

Sean Annan, fellow Special Olympics athlete, traveled from his home which is 20 miles from Vancouver, Canada. Sean regularly competes with his team from Special Olympics British Columbia in his Langley program. In addition to basketball, Sean competes in golf. He also competes on a regular softball team.

“It’s a once-in-a-life-time [experience],” said Sean in a post-game interview near the locker rooms. “It’s really special meeting new people from different places [and] I’m having fun, that’s what it’s all about.”

Watch my full postgame interview with Sean on SCTV, the digital television platform on Special Chronicles LIVE: https://youtu.be/iUbVDrZqka0

Post-game interview with hometown hero Carrie Nykiel.

Directly from our home state of Special Olympics Illinois, USA, fellow Special Olympics athlete Carrie Nykiel didn’t have to travel far as she competes right in the Chicago area. Carrie competes in mostly every sport including volleyball, softball, and powerlifting.

“It was an amazing, great experience, [and] first time doing it,” said Carrie during a postgame interview after an excellent star-studded Unified basketball game during the NBA All-Star 2020.

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Carrie LIVE from the Wintrust Arena on Special Chronicles LIVE and airing on SCTV: https://youtu.be/jGuB0lIxQeo

Posing for a pic with singer/songwriter Andy Grammer!

For those who have attended any of our many Special Olympics events, our movement is driven by more than 1.1 million volunteers donating their time and expertise. That’s true for Andy Grammer, triple-platinum singer/songwriter, who stepped up this year as a volunteer coach for the 2020 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball game.

Moments after the game, I had an opportunity to ask Andy about his experiences serving as a coach for this Special Olympics Unified Sports event.

“It’s the way it makes your heart feel,” said Andy about what the Inclusion Revolution means to him. “This is the best place to be.”

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Andy Grammer LIVE from Chicago on Special Chronicles LIVE — airing on SCTV and on SpecialOlympics.orghttps://youtu.be/bKOqlIszgOE

In memory of the late Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team who had passed away a few weeks prior to this year’s NBA All-Star Week, our Special Olympics Unified Game concluded in an exciting moment that paid tribute to Kobe.

Getting Chris Carter’s reactions to his game-winning steal and jump shot!

Christopher Carter, fellow Special Olympics athlete, traveled from Special Olympics Virginia, USA. Chris’ parents coach for Special Olympics and he says his family lives and breathes basketball. Pointing at the number “24” on his yellow-colored uniform, Chris said his favorite part of the game was a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

The score went back and forth in the fourth quarter and with less than 30 seconds left, Chris’ team was down three. After Unified partner Horace Grant scored to pull his team within one, Chris stole the inbounds pass and hit a baseline jump shot with 11 seconds left to seal the victory for his team.

“If it wasn’t for this number,” said Chris. “The game winning shot, of course, the gaming winning shot” was Chris’ favorite part of this year’s Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during the NBA All-Star Week.

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Chris Carter moments after his winning shot. Now Available to watch on Special Chronicles LIVE, airing on SCTV the Special Chronicles digital television platform, SCTV: https://youtu.be/ff3dI5onvtk

I have to agree that this inclusion moment was my favorite part, too. Amongst many celebrities, we were able to bring our Inclusion Revolution movement to the NBA and the world of professional sporting events. This is the way to be fully included. This is how we can truly live in a Unified world.

Whether we are playing sports or interviewing fellow athletes & celebrities off the court, we all win when we #ChooseToInclude and join the Inclusion Revolution.

Sign the Inclusion Pledge at: JoinTheRevolution.org

Congratulations to all on competing in a thrilling Unified game!


Seun Adigun Spends the Day with Special Olympics Illinois Athletes


 

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On Monday, February 18, Seun Adigun – Double Olympian- came back home to Chicago to spend the day with the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.

Seun’s career as an Olympic athlete has been nothing short of incredible. She represented Team Nigeria in 100m hurdles at the London 2012 Olympic Games and has competed all over the African continent. She later took on a new endeavor breaking into winter sports.

In 2016, she founded the Nigerian bobsled team. Adigun is also the first African Bobsled driver to lead a team from Nigeria to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Through her love of sport, she broke down barriers.

Seun is a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics. As she leads the way to inclusion through sports, Adigun has been able to create opportunities, foster inclusivity, and encourage & motivate Special Olympics athletes around the world to push past any obstacle they may face.

Being a Chicago native, Seun’s return was particularly special.

She chose to spend her first day home with the fellow champions – the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.

“Seun has embarked on a journey that would surpass many. Her accomplishments of not only competing in the 2012 Olympic Games, but also helping to cultivate the inaugural Nigerian bobsled team and competing last year are absolutely amazing, said Dani Chitwood, the Assistant Director of Region D for Special Olympics Illinois.

“She defied her critics and achieved greatness. It parallels the efforts of our athletes which makes her story so important.”

She visited a bowling qualifier for Search Inc., where Seun spent time cheering on the athletes as they worked to qualify for their regional competition.

Search is a community-based nonprofit whose programs serve more than 600 people and their families annually at locations stretching from the southwest side of Chicago to the northern suburbs of Waukegan and Mount Prospect.

Later that day, Seun toured Misericordia where even more Special Olympics Illinois athletes welcomed her. Misericordia serves over 600 children & adults with intellectual & developmental disabilities from diverse racial, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds.

There she was able to see the athletes in action! From powerlifting to rhythmic gymnastics practice she saw it all.

“It meant so much to be able to share time and space with the Special Olympics Illinois athletes I met on my trip to Chicago,” said Seun Adigun. “I felt the joy and determination of each person as they participated in their respective activities. Most importantly, I felt genuine love and appreciation from them when I came to show my support. It was truly an incredible feeling.”

Like Seun Adigun, Special Olympics athletes break barriers every day, they define the impossible.


Believing is Achieving


 

Stefan Xidas, Special Olympics Illinois athlete, and dedicated Cubs fan pursues his dream of singing at Wrigley Field with help from two lifelong friends. 

 

On Monday, September 10, Stefan Xidas’s dream came true. Stefan challenged Cubs Chairman, Tom Ricketts to allow him to sing the National Anthem at a game if he raised funds in support of Special Olympics Illinois. After continuous efforts, Tom Ricketts allowed Stefan to sing at a game, and the GoFundMe campaign took off – raising over $18,000 for Special Olympics Illinois. The Chicago Cubs matched the donation, bringing the total amount raised to over $37,000 for the organization.

Stefan has been involved in Special Olympics for the past 15 years. He enjoys playing tennis and has competed in singles for all 15 years of involvement. Stefan’s singing career began when he was 8 years old. Music was fundamental in Stefan’s childhood and has continued to have a strong influence on his life. 

The interest in singing sparked early on by Stefan’s neighbor and local voice teacher, Patty Lupo. She decided Stefan should learn how to sing the national anthem from a young age. She believed that if he could sing that song, he could sing anything. Performance after performance Stefan needed less of his voice coach’s help; he eventually grew to sing the song completely on his own.

From singing at local little league games to Major League Baseball games, Stefan got very good at singing in front of a crowd. So good that he was asked to sing the national anthem at U.S. Cellular Field before a White Sox game in 2005.

Stefan’s next goal was to sing at a Cubs game on Wrigley Field, and he did just that. Alongside Stefan, were his two lifelong friends, Tommy Molitor and John Rucinski. The boys helped Stefan create and organize the campaign.

Their friendship began in kindergarten. Tom and John befriended Stefan and they clicked. “They have blessed Stefan beyond belief, but the friendship was reciprocal,” Stan Xidas, Stefan’s father explained.

Tom, who is a videographer, suggested creating a video and a GoFundMe campaign in hopes that it would create attention around Stefan’s dream. Stefan and his family loved the idea. “It just kind of took off after we put it on Facebook,” Molitor said. “Everybody was really supportive of it. We got calls after calls from friends and family. Donations started coming in. It was tremendous.”

The campaign hit home with those who know Stefan, and even some who did not. Creating this campaign was so important to Tom, to be able to unify people through the love of sport, as Special Olympics does.

At the game, there was a group of about 100 friends and family members watching from the upper deck at Wrigley Field. Cubs fan and Special Olympics Illinois athlete, Stefan Xidas belted out the National Anthem before the game on Monday, September 10, 2018. “It’s been the best time I’ve ever had in my whole life,” Stefan added. 

Stefan never missed a note, as he stood proudly representing his country, his family, and Special Olympics. “Words cannot describe the crowd’s response when they heard Stefan sing, it was such a unifying moment,” Stan Xidas said.

“As a friend, it was just incredible to see over 100 family and friends up in the seats all in matching shirts to support Stefan,” said Tom. “I was shaking with tears rolling down my face; it was a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of.”

Stefan’s resilience and determination created his path to success. “You can be anything you want, you can do anything you want, as long as you put your mind to it,” Stefan said. When asked what his inspiration for all this was, Stefan confessed, “Two words, my dad.”