Sports Ambassadors Stories

Apolo Ohno Podcast Interview


 

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


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!


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.”


Pro Football Weekly to Commemorate 50th Anniversary


 

Special Olympics and Pro Football Weekly both turn 50 this year and the celebration has begun with Pro Football Weekly’s “Team for the Ages” campaign! Now is the time to select a roster of the 50 greatest players of the last 50 years, by clicking here. Fans participating in the selection process will be eligible for grand prizes, including an all-inclusive package to the “Big Game” at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in February 2019. Daily and weekly prizes also will be awarded during the voting from now until May 17.

Jamaal Charles, two-time All-Pro and Special Olympics athlete

Additionally, a documentary is planned for a fall 2018 release. The production will feature the players selected to the team, as well as a behind–the–scenes look at the selection process. The documentary will air on select television outlets during the 2018 season.

In September, Pro Football Weekly will screen the documentary at a VIP premier, celebrating Special Olympics 50th Anniversary as well, of which will become the beneficiary of choice, in the Chicago area. Select members of the team are expected to attend the screening.

The anniversary celebration has kicked off and is underway, when fans will be able to select a roster of the 50 greatest players of the last 50 years. Fans participating in the selection process will be eligible for grand prizes, including an all-inclusive package to the “Big Game” at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in February 2019. Daily and weekly prizes also will be awarded during the voting, which is open now to May 17. Fans can vote for their team at ProFootballWeekly.com.

Player selections will be announced beginning June 18. PFW will name one player each day  through Sept. 3. The coach of PFW’s “Team for the Ages” will be named on Sept. 4. The NFL’s regular season kicks off on Sept. 6.

A special “Team for the Ages,” collector’s edition will be published later this year. Produced in a hybrid book/magazine format, the publication will be available on newsstands and in bookstores in the fall.

Executive Editor and Special Olympics Illinois Foundation Board member, Hub Arkush has been around since PFW’s inception and has led the multimedia enterprise for over 40 years. “Over that time we’ve broken more than a little ground in how the NFL has been covered and reported on,” Arkush said. “A great deal of our focus has been based in the independent evaluation of talent. PFW was the first to select an All-Pro team from both the NFL and AFL in 1968 – several years before interleague play began.”

Register Now


Kyle & Emma Hendricks: SOILL “Star Champion” Ambassadors


 

Special Olympics Illinois is proud to announce that Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks and wife, Emma, have officially signed on as “Star Champion” Ambassadors for the organization. Their ambassadorship journey began in May of 2017.

“We can’t wait to get out there and spread the word…and do anything we can to help!” Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs Pitcher.

In less than a year Kyle and Emma have helped raise over $25,000 to support 23,000 Special Olympics Illinois athletes.

[bg_faq_start]

Learn about Special Olympics Illinois, our upcoming events, fundraisers, & competitions!

About Special Olympics

Upcoming Signature Events:

State Competitions:

50th Anniversary Celebration July 17th- 22nd, 2018 :

[bg_faq_end]

[bg_faq_start]

Click here to see a few of their experiences with Special Olympics Illinois, we can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for the couple!

Hendricks – Celebrity Sweat Video Shoot

Hendricks – 50th Anniversary Town Hall

Hendricks – Voya “Invest in Something Special” Campaign

Hendricks – Couple donates wedding money to Special Olympics Illinois & PAWS!

Hendricks-Sugar Factory “Thank you Party”

Hendricks – Kyle’s Parents Attend Special Olympics Winter Games

Hendricks – Spring Training Surprise

Newsletters and Press releases:

[bg_faq_end]

Choosing a Fit Life: Every Day Counts

Choosing to live a healthy life can be hard for anyone. We asked Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, his wife Emma Hendricks and Special Olympics athlete Daniel Smrokowski, to share their motivations and daily routines to make health and fitness a priority in their lives.

https://medium.com/specialolympics/choosing-a-fit-life-every-day-counts-988909b964a7.

For additional information please contact:
Teresa Crudele-Seidel| Special Olympics Illinois | Sports Marketing Director
C: 312.405.7335 | E: tcrudele@soill.org