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How This Special Olympics Illinois Athlete Builds Physical and Financial Wellness


 

SOILL and IL ABLE Partner On & Off Field to Help Families

When 21-year-old Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) Global Messenger Michael Williams collaborated on an Autism Awareness Month video, he was filling pandemic time to build communications skills while waiting to return to in-person SOILL competition. “Michael is not as interested in the virtual activities, so he is looking forward to entering more Special Olympics events in-person,” said Dawn Williams, Michael’s mom and coach of several of Michael’s teams.

Dawn also coaches Michael to build and strengthen other life areas that he will need as an adult, including having an IL ABLE account. IL ABLE accounts are savings and investment accounts that Special Olympics Illinois athletes and their families can open to save for disability expenses while preserving benefits such as SSI and Medicaid. “Our plan is to let the funds in the IL ABLE account build over the years,” said Dawn.  “So, he will have money for any big purchases or for his later-in-life years when his support needs might change.”

Like Michael and Dawn, a year into the pandemic, many SOILL families have gotten creative to find ways off- the-field and off-the-court to keep building skills and independence in other life areas. That’s why IL ABLE and Special Olympics Illinois have teamed up and are proud to announce IL ABLE as the Official Families Network Partner, there to help the more than 23,100 Special Olympics Illinois athletes and their families as they build both physical wellbeing through SOILL sports and financial wellbeing through IL ABLE.

Many virtual and in-person awareness and learning activities are planned, including webinars and IL ABLE resource tables at the 2022 Winter and Summer Games. Plan to attend and learn more! You’ll find events information throughout the year here on soill.org and at illinoisable.com.

Meanwhile, Michael has returned to work part-time at the Hope Café in the Springfield area. “He is depositing his work checks directly into the IL ABLE account and he has the checking account option,” Dawn said. By putting his paychecks into his IL ABLE account instead of a regular checking account, Michael protects his SSI benefits. (Learn more here).

Michael is also building another life skill – learning how to drive! He has his driving permit and hopes to get his driver’s license after more practice on the road, according to Dawn. Expenses related to learning to drive are a good example of the types of expenses that a tax-free IL ABLE account can be used to pay for. (Learn more here).

That’s not all. Michael moved back home from a group residence during the pandemic and, with the support of parents and siblings, the transition went well. So well, in fact, that the family is planning for a future that might include supported living. “Now that I am back to work in-person teaching and his siblings are back to living their lives, Michael is still doing well living at home,” Dawn said. “We are very excited about his progress and his new venture in successfully learning to drive. These are all great steps in increasing his independence and building his future.”  (Did we mention that home and housing expenses are another area that could be covered with funds from an IL ABLE account?) 

As Michael, Dawn, and all of the SOILL families return to in-person SOILL events, IL ABLE will be cheering them on toward the finish line. 

Click here to follow in Michael’s footsteps and open your IL ABLE account.  


Virtual Sports Helps Athletes Stay in the Game


 

Keeping the competitive spirit alive during the pandemic was at the forefront of conversations amongst many, including Special Olympics Illinois athletes. Due to a remote atmosphere, a new virtual experience was born – Virtual Sports. This virtual program is comprised of monthly sports skills and challenges along with a featured fitness component, designed to help engage athletes, coaches, and families from across Illinois. 

Special Olympics Illinois athlete KC Coppel and his mother, Micki, made a point to stay active while at home. KC lives in a group home with his peers. During the pandemic, KC was not able to engage with others outside of his housemates. Therefore, Micki and KC made a plan and later enrolled in the January’s fitness challenge. This month-long challenge was an accumulation of jumping jacks, leading up to the total amount of 100.

“We FaceTime every day! Somedays, I would forget, and KC would politely remind me with a text or call,” explains Micki.

Participating in Virtual Sports was an opportunity for a mother and a son to stay connected during the pandemic, and most importantly, stay healthy.

“It helped me keep busy while in-person activities were not happening,” said Coppel.

KC Coppel competes with Northwest Special Recreation Association (NWSRA). Outside of competition, Coppel takes trips with his peers and teammates. He also learns social and life skills to be able to live independently.

“Special Olympics has afforded KC so many opportunities, many of those being outside of sports,” explains his mother, Micki.

The virtual programming Special Olympics Illinois provided throughout the pandemic came as no surprise to Micki.

“As a family, we moved around quite a bit through KC’s childhood. We were very thankful to find the Special Olympics Illinois program.”

Virtual Sports is also a part of the upcoming Virtual Summer Games this month, helping athletes be part of the Virtual Summer Games at home. The Virtual Summer Games Pentathlon lets athletes choose five events to complete, submitting their scores online. Events consist of all sports typically offered during Summer Games – but with a twist. To participate in the June offering, please visit www.soill.org/virtual-sports.

You will learn more about KC and the Special Olympics Illinois Virtual Sports program during the Summer Games: Virtual Celebration on Saturday, June 26 at 6:30 PM CT. This primetime event will be available to watch live on our Facebook pageTwitch channel, or via the Virtual Summer Games website.  To learn more about activities available throughout the week of Virtual Summer Games, view the schedule and the details on how to participate at virtualsummergames.soill.org/event-calendar.


Esports Initiative Provides Competition, Camaraderie throughout Pandemic


 

When COVID-19 halted in-person sports, the rush to find ways to virtually engage athletes began. Thus began the Special Olympics Illinois esports program, a welcome option for athletes to connect with new and old friends across the state just by logging on from their homes.

Special Olympics Illinois tested the water in April of 2020. At the time, four athletes competed in a nation-wide Forza tournament with SOI/Microsoft.

From there, weekly game nights began on Wednesdays, starting with just a few athletes, but slowly building as each week passed. The first league was in the summer of 2020, in conjunction with Virtual Summer Games, and saw 30 athletes and Unified Partners competing in a 2v2 Rocket League tournament.

Recently, in conjunction with Special Olympics Illinois Return to Play guidelines, a small group of athletes and Unified Partners from around the state came together in person to compete in the first-ever, LIVE Special Olympics Illinois Rocket League Tournament. Among the participating players was PJ Broske.

“PJ has been an integral part of Special Olympics Illinois esports, and the growth it has seen over the last year,” says Mac Dougan, who is an Assistant Director on staff and heads up the esports program.

PJ began competing with Special Olympics Illinois when he was eight years old, and over the past 13 years has competed in basketball, soccer and bowling. When the pandemic hit, and he was no longer able to train or compete with his fellow Monroe County Patriots athletes, he turned to esports.

“Paul (PJ) has missed out completely on the three sports he’s played throughout the years. Offering esports gave him fun competition and socialization while we were mostly isolated,” explains his mother, Angie.

Special Olympics Illinois has allowed PJ to be engaged in sports, develop friendships, and work with teammates, things he struggled with throughout his time in school. Sports proved to be a positive outlet for PJ to channel his drive, motivation, and excess energy, and he takes much pride in the medals he has been awarded over the years. He has pivoted that same drive towards esports.

“PJ is well versed in computers, and shares his knowledge with myself, and those that play on the PC,” says Dougan. “During his time with us, he has created Minecraft servers, set up his very own Rocket League tournaments, and encouraged others to go outside their comfort zone when it comes to playing video games.”

The Inaugural esports Unified Rocket League Tournament was PJ’s first experience using controllers instead of the PC gaming equipment he was accustomed to. Despite the change, PJ and his Unified Partner, Bryce, were victorious. The pair placed first.

The family agrees that without the opportunity for esports, the pandemic would have been much more difficult.

“We are extremely thankful that this program was offered.”

At present, the program has grown to include nearly 200 athletes, partners, coaches and volunteers.

Dougan added, “PJ’s energy, leadership and friendship towards all participants has led the way in further improving our competitions, community game nights, and structure as a whole. It has been great to see.”

You can learn more about PJ and the Special Olympics Illinois esports program during the Summer Games: Virtual Celebration on Saturday, June 26 at 6:30 PM CT. This primetime event will be available to watch live on our Facebook pageTwitch channel, or via the Virtual Summer Games website

To learn more about all of the activities available as a part of Virtual Summer Games, view the schedule and the details on how to participate at virtualsummergames.soill.org/event-calendar.

If you would like to get involved in esports, please visit esports.soill.org.


2021 Virtual Torch Run


 

The Virtual Torch Run is a great way to support the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois no matter where you are!


2021 Virtual Summer Games


 

Special Olympics Illinois is proud to host the 2021 Virtual Summer Games online this June 21-26!