More Inspiring Stories Stories

A Mother’s Dedication Can’t Be Frozen


 

Beth Marshall is no stranger to the Polar Plunge. For a number of years, she has plunged into frigid waters in Fox Lake, Illinois. Why? Her son, Flynn.

Flynn is a Special Olympics Illinois athlete who currently competes with Pioneer Center in McHenry County.

Flynn began his athletic journey at the age of eight with Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association. He started with one sport – track and field. However, to this day, Flynn refers to it as “run and throw.” When he started high school, he was able to compete with the school team. Now, 17 years later he has competed in nine different sports, including powerlifting and his favorite sport – basketball!

Beth began plunging in 2011 – it all started at Richmond-Burton High School where she teaches.

“My first year plunging, I created a school team for students to participate in,” says Beth. “Flynn was a freshman in high school and had become friends with a number of upperclassmen.”

They thought this was a great way to support Flynn.

When the Plunge turned virtual, Beth was determined to lend her support to the cause and to her son. The mother/son pair tag teamed the Plunge At Home — Beth sat in the snow as Flynn poured ice cold water over her head.
“I want to support an organization that is important to our family and community.”

The Marshalls have raised nearly $1,000 to date. You can support their Plunge efforts here, or consider registering for your own Plunge At Home at plungeillinois.com.


Superman, Batwoman, Wonder Woman, & Captain America Take the Polar Plunge


 
The Humphrey Family & Whiteside County Sheriff Take the Plunge At Home

For Special Olympics Illinois superheroes and super-supporters, it’s not where you Plunge, or how you Plunge, but that you Plunge. The Humphrey Family of Morrison, Illinois, is using their Plunge At Home to take us on a thrilling adventure.

“We are excited to be creative and plunge together. Supporting Special Olympics Illinois is more important than ever so the athletes can get back on the field of play when it is safe,” says Audrey Humphrey – mother to Special Olympics Illinois athlete Tori Humphrey. “This year is the time to do it, so we are giving it our best, so everyone knows how much Special Olympics Illinois means to us.”

On February 4, Tori, took the Plunge for the first time with her parents and Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker by her side. To date, her efforts have raised over $2,000, surpassing her initial goal. The four superheroes braved the cold and took their Plunge At Home in the snow. 

Audrey credits Special Olympics Illinois for her daughter’s growth.

“Tori has been exposed to activities she would not have been exposed to in a school setting.”

Tori began competing with Special Olympics Illinois in 2010 after a teacher recommended the program. She competes in track and field, softball throw, bowling, and basketball with the Bi-County Bull Dogs.

When asked how Special Olympics Illinois has positively influenced her daughter Audrey explains, “Until you experience the magic of Special Olympics, you do not know what to expect.”

“I will never forget this moment; it was at a bowling tournament in Rockford. A fellow athlete was having a tough time finding where to place his fingers to get a strong grip on the bowling ball. Without hesitation, Tori walks over and shows him how to properly hold the bowling ball. Special Olympics taught Tori what sportsmanship means not only on the field of play but off. It was a beautiful sight to see.”

You can support athletes like Tori by taking your own Plunge At Home this season, or by donating to the Polar Plunge. For more information, please visit www.plungeillinois.com


More Than 40 Years Unified: The People of Galena, Eagle Ridge, and Chestnut


 

The amount of people to contribute to the success of the Special Olympics Illinois State Winter Games over the past 40 plus years exceeds the amount of space allotted for this article.  In fact, if every name of every contributor, athlete, coach, parent, family member, friend, business owner, and fan to have attended, supported, cheered-on, cried-with, highed-fived, awarded medals, and prepped snow for competition were listed, this edition of the Galena Gazette would rival “War and Peace” in volume.  On that note, you are about to read the recollections of one individual who was there in the beginning, who didn’t hesitate to share his admiration for Galena, Eagle Ridge, Chestnut Mountain, and all the people who have put forth any effort to make these winter games as special as they are.

In 1981, the Special Olympics National Winter Games were slated to take place in Stowe, Vermont, and several individuals wanted to send a team to represent Illinois.  “One of the requirements from the national office was to have a winter games program in the state,” recalls Kevin O’Brien, former Region Director, Special Olympics Illinois, who was Area Director at the time.  Kevin, along with then Executive Director, Denny Aldridge, and 1980 Board Director, Joann Geiger, went to Galena Territory.  “The three of us went up there and had a walk through and met the people at Eagle Ridge and Chestnut.  (We) decided we would do a training school there in December of ’80 so that we would have a team that could go to the games,” said O’Brien.    

Cross Country and Alpine Skiing were the two ski-related sports that were offered at the time, so O’Brien, Aldridge, and Geiger started the training program which allowed the program to become certified- a requirement to allow athletes to qualify for the national games.  O’Brien continued, “Then we went back to our agencies who came to the training and then looked for resources to be able to actually nominate athletes to go.”

Looking for resources seemed to be something common in the formation of Illinois’ winter program, as was confirmed when reading an article published here in the Gazette on February 12, 2013, by Editor Hillary Dickerson.  In that article, she wrote about Jim Cox, who started out in the early days as a volunteer “hugger,” and Terry Heim, long-time volunteer, who recalled, “that there was no staging area in the early days, and athletes sat in school buses until it was time for them to complete.” Heim also noted in that article that one of his best parts of the Winter Games is seeing and interacting with the same familiar faces year after year.  He is always on hand for the parade and opening ceremony in downtown Galena and loves to watch as the excitement builds with the athletes. 

Also sharing in both the duties and delight of Winter Games’ first days was Eagle Ridge’s Ginger Eisbach, who recalls that before the parade and opening ceremony were in the downtown area, they were held in the Galena High School parking lot and at Turner Hall.   

O’Brien then continues by noting several more people that contributed their valuable time, talent, and resources.  Two of these are the current Chestnut Mountain management team, Erin and Mike Murphy.  He remembers Mike playing a major role in both the ski school and ski rental programs, while Erin was very much involved in the lodging.  O’Brien stated, too, that Gazette’s own Mark Vanosdol also contributed on-mountain and played a major role in the early days of the program.      

“The crazy part of it is, you know, I was also 40 years younger so some of the things that we’d go up and do when we had meetings were very social.  We would just sit down and talk about all sorts of things and come up with all sorts of ideas of what the athletes could do,” he recalls.  “We used to do a whole bunch of stuff with the Galena Cellars people… (the) family was very supportive and Scott Lawlor was actually one of our international coaches going out to Nevada/Lake Tahoe, where we had international games.”

When asked about key take-aways from the whole experience, O’Brien notes the value in being able to trust the folks at the venues involved in years of successful events.  He credits the expertise of the staff at Eagle Ridge, Chestnut, and throughout Galena for continually making these events enjoyable for all involved.  “I think there are two or three (key memories.) The big thing is when we finally made a breakthrough that we were going to go to a second and a third hill.  Once we realized that the talent of the athletes was there for us to challenge ourselves, to make sure that they were getting as much challenge as possible for the alpine, I think that was huge.”  He continues, “I think the best part of it is… the fact that we’re going to come (to Galena) for three days in late January first part of February is just locked in.  We are now a tradition with them. We are now part of the community, and I think that Chestnut and Eagle Ridge both are equally embracing of what it is we do.”

Whether it be embracing progress, or volunteering as a “hugger,” there is a consistent tone of mutual benefit that is apparent when looking back on the past 40 plus years of Winter Games.  “I think the fact that WE’VE changed what we think about with our athletes.  We talk about the Inclusion Revolution (which means) we now talk about what our guys can do rather than what they can’t do.  We now talk about abilities rather than disabilities, and I think we’ve matured in that, as an organization.  The folks (at Eagle Ridge, Chestnut, and Galena) have done the exact same thing, and maybe even a little bit ahead of us. They see our guys, especially when (athletes) come out there, they treat them just like any other customer that’s coming out there, and I think that’s the most telling part of the whole thing.  It’s just business as usual, and I think that’s the best way to approach our people no matter what.”  O’Brien finishes by saying, “I think the bottom line for me is how much we’ve all matured.  Our terminology actually talks about people now, instead of disabilities.”

Perhaps it is countless others who have, as O’Brien puts it, “matured” in their views of those with intellectual disabilities.  As for so many in the Galena Territory including Eagle Ridge and Chestnut Mountain, that maturity may have been there since inception.  As the saying goes, “some are born with it” well, the birth of Special Olympics Winter Games was no exception, as it was formed by those who are truly exceptional.   


Kinzi Loyd – A Star Who Shines Through Giving


 

Kinzi Loyd is a 29 year-old athlete who lives with her parents in Eldorado, Illinois. Born with Cerebral Palsy and Leigh’s Disease, Kinzi faces multiple motor challenges and depends on her mother and other family members for daily care. She is able to verbally communicate with those who are familiar with her, however she uses a communication device to communicate with others. Kinzi enjoys learning and, despite her limited motor skills, she is able to use a fisted knuckle on one hand to type on her iPad and laptop.

Kinzi has participated in Special Olympics Illinois for several years, and she is always ready for a challenge. For example, she competes in bowling the best way that she can – by bowling with her foot! She also enjoys competing in Spring and Summer Games, as well as basketball skills and motor skills.

When not on the field of play, Kinzi helps with Special Olympics Illinois fundraising events and serves as a Global Messenger for Region K. She participates in the annual Polar Plunge and Ducky Derby, and was recently chosen to be Duck Ambassador for her region in 2021. 

After graduating high school, Kinzi attended an outside workshop for adults with disabilities. She later decided that she wanted to pursue different avenues and started volunteering at the local elementary school. She worked with pre-school students and helped teachers by providing for and participating in activities with the students. She also worked at a nearby hair salon where she folded towels with the assistance of a personal support worker. 

When COVID cases continued to rise, Kinzi had to give up her volunteer work and also her position at the salon, but she did not let that stop her.  She loves to stay busy and keep her mind and body active. Despite her challenges, she is determined to continue to live a productive and rewarding life by helping others.

Over the years, her uncle has taught her about electronics and how to use various equipment for recording.  With some assistance, adaptations, and modifications, Kinzi was able to make recordings and decided to offer a special service to others from her home. She now helps families by taking VHS home movies and converting them to DVD format. She uses her computer to design a label and cover then prints them to make a professional-looking product. She only needs assistance with placing the tapes and DVDs into the players and placing the labels and covers. She is able to perform the whole process by using her remotes, computer, and iPad.

Kinzi provides her VHS-to-DVD service at a minimal charge, then donates all of the profits to Special Olympics Illinois.  The money she donates is used to support events and to help her own team, The Saline County Superstars Young Adults.  

Kinzi’s talents are portrayed in so many ways.  Whether it be through sports or creative fundraising, she makes a big difference in her community and is a star for Special Olympics Illinois. She loves participating in any way she can. Kinzi’s desire to help others, though, is and always will be what makes THIS star shine the brightest.