More Inspiring Stories Stories

Row 4 Dough Teams Working Together for a Common Goal


Mary Anne Ehlert Former Special Olympics Illinois Board Member Supports Row 4 Dough with a Surprising Outcome.
Mary Anne Ehlert has been involved with Special Olympics Illinois for more than 40 years as a former board member, supporter, family member, and new this year, Row 4 Dough participant.

Recently, Mary Anne has participated in rowing groups through Hydrow, an interactive online rowing experience. After learning that Row 4 Dough encompassed a virtual option this year, she reached out to some rowing companions to help form a team. The response was overwhelming with 50 individuals interested. Team PT (Protected Tomorrows) Hydrow formed five teams of 10. Of the 50 participants, many have rowed not only thousands, but also millions of meters over the years, so it is safe to say they were happy to participate.

Mary Anne funded $500 for each team along with fundraising from the individual rowers. All five teams rowed their way to a total of $3,520.

The most surprising coincidence about the group was the number who were involved in Special Olympics. Some have an athlete in their family, some are coaches, and others just embody the Special Olympics mission.

Participant Megan Morrison is involved because of her role as a teacher. “I work with many amazing atypical students who demonstrate every day what it means to rise to challenges,” said Megan.

Pictured: Megan Morrison
Pictured: Mara (Special Olympics Illinois athlete) and Robert Johnson (Special Olympics coach), father and daughter duo, participated in the event.

Algonquin PD to Support Special Olympics Row 4 Dough with 11 Rowers. Written by Sgt. Dennis W. Walker of the Algonquin Police Department.
Our team name is Algonquin PD Row for SO. We are comprised of 11 Algonquin Officers including Chief John Bucci, Sgt. Andrew Doles, Sgt. Timothy Cooney, Officers Haley Bucheleres, Joseph Cisneros, David Gough, Daniel Klocke, Steven Skrodzki, Brandon Watson, and Trevor Wogsland, and myself.
This is our first year participating in Row 4 Dough, but have been involved in many awareness and fundraising events which include, Cop on the Rooftop, Plane Pull, Texas Roadhouse, Summer Games, and other local events. Our team has raised over $1,000 to benefit the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.

Speaking for our team, we enjoy serving and representing our local and state athletes with hopes to raise funds and awareness on their behalf. I have fond memories of my mother taking me out of school for the day to watch a neighborhood friend compete in the Spring Games at Bloom High School. Because of that experience, I have formed strong relationships with many Special Olympics athletes.
During my time as a School Resource Officer at Jacobs High School, I had the opportunity to support and engage with student-athletes for almost nine years.
Participating in Row 4 Dough has allowed us to support Special Olympics Illinois athletes across the state as well as our current High School Resource Officer, Andrea Treml.

Apolo Ohno Podcast Interview


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

A Great Woman Puts on a Great Concert for a Great Cause


Ever since she was young, Special Olympics has played a huge role in Lauren McClusky’s life. Her dad, Jeff McClusky (Illinois Special Olympics Foundation Board Member), worked on the Special Christmas compilation CDs when she was growing up, which started their family’s involvement. Lauren’s sister and her began fundraising for Special Olympics with lemonade stands in their front yard in Evanston. They volunteered at games in Chicago, Bloomington, and even got to travel to the games in Alaska, Ireland, and China, where they made many friends along the way!

In the Fall of 2002, Lauren’s dad and her traveled to China with the Special Olympics Washington D.C. group (including Timothy Shriver) for their first National games in Xi’an. They attended receptions, visited the Great Wall, and experienced much of the Chinese culture in Beijing before traveling to Central China. At a press conference during their trip, she donated the money raised from her sister and her lemonade stands. A news publication in China printed an article about it the following month, calling Lauren the “Blonde Girl from California, America.” The trip was a life changing experience and gave her further enthusiasm and love towards the athletes of Special Olympics.

When Lauren was in High School in 2007, her friends and her decided to throw somewhat of a “battle of the bands” style concert to raise money and awareness for the organization. They partnered with Metro Chicago and Special Olympics Illinois. Their first year, they successfully raised $10K and had 800 attendees on a Sunday afternoon. This event, originally called McFest and now Nelarusky, has grown into an Annual Official Lollapalooza Aftershow that has raised nearly $400K over the last 13 years. Nationally renowned acts such as Imagine Dragons, Alabama Shakes, Icona Pop, Sylvan Esso, Jon Bellion, Quinn XCII, and many more have played to a sold out crowd of 1150 attendees, who are not only there to watch a concert, but to support and learn more about Special Olympics Illinois.

Special Olympics Illinois Global Messenger’s Barbara Kozdron and Christine Maxwell alternate giving a heartfelt speech each year that is always received with applause and tears of joy. It is hands down the most special part of the event. Feeling the happiness and excitement over Special Olympics Illinois coming not only from Barb and Christine, but from the audience members, is truly an incredible thing.

Special Olympics has changed Lauren’s life in many ways. It has given her lifelong friends among the athletes (Barb, Christine, Sofia, Bree, Dustin, and so many more!), experiences all over the world, and Nelarusky. She is grateful to be able to give back to an organization that has touched her heart for all her life.

Student Athlete Coordinates Inclusive Practices with Her Team


Meet Klaire Steffens, a sophomore student athlete at the University of Chicago.

She is majoring in Public Policy and minoring in Education and Society. Apart from being a member of the basketball team, she is on the executive board of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA), co-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of the Trott Business Program.

Part of her role as WAA Promotions Coordinator is to organize inclusive practices with Chicago’s Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) teams. Her teammate and co-president of the WAA brought inclusive practices to UChicago because of the belief that is shared with them all that, “regardless of a so-called ‘disability,’ these athletes deserve to play and practice on a stage as large as all of the hard work which they have put into their sport,” per Miranda Burt (Class of 2020).

The inclusive practices bring in local Special Olympics Illinois teams to practice alongside varsity athletes on campus. This past year they had soccer, flag football, and basketball practices.

In addition to the inclusive practices, WAA hosts an annual fundraising event, Slam Dunk, during the Women’s and Men’s basketball games to raise money for these teams. They raise funds through raffle ticket sales leading up to and during the games. Klaire is so moved when she is playing on the court and looks up to the stands to see some of the Special Olympics athletes that have practiced with the team. They come to Slam Dunk to support their teams as well as play in a basketball game with their athletes during halftime.

Beyond the inclusive practices, WAA usually hosts a Special Olympics Field Day in the spring. This is an incredibly fun day where all of these Special Olympics Illinois teams come together with the University of Chicago male and female athletes to play soccer, basketball, flag football, track, and tennis.

As a student-athlete, Klaire does undergo the typical stress of tests, assignments, and managing a 20+ hour weekly commitment to basketball. However, her involvement with Special Olympics always brings her and other athletes joy.

The SOILL athletes always arrive on campus with contagious smiles beaming across their faces. Whenever the team sets foot on the field or court, the Special Olympics Illinois athletes manage to keep those smiles while also turning their competitive juices on. During the practices Klaire forgets about whatever assignments she may have because she is all consumed in the fun and competitive atmosphere. Perhaps the most meaningful take away that she has had is the relationships that she has built by practicing with the same teams consistently throughout the year in a variety of sports. Some of her other fellow student athletes and Klaire are on a first-name basis with many of the SOILL athletes. Whenever they call out Klaire and her teammates names or come give them high fives, their hearts warm.

Many UChicago athletes have told Klaire that SOILL athletes make their day. They are given the privilege to deliver checks from the Slam Dunk money to some of the teams that practice with them. Seeing how hard the SOILL athletes work, their own practice facilities, and how meaningful the funds are is eye opening. They are grateful that they are able to help provide the SOILL athletes the gear that they deserve and experience practices with them.

The Special Olympic athletes’ passion for their sport radiates throughout the inclusive practices. Their passion reminds the UChicago team of the pure love and joy that comes from one’s sport.

Lives Transformed: Special Olympics Illinois and Family, Changed Together and Forever


“Once you go once, there is no escaping it. You can’t help but get hooked” says Meggan Rogers talking about her experience with the Special Olympics Illinois. To her and her mother Linda Hagemann, the Special Olympics community is like a second family to them.

Meggan’s mother, Linda, is a police liaison at the Kane County State’s Attorney Office. She has worked at that office for more than 40 years. With her position, she has gained very close friendships with the officers and police departments in the area. One day, a good friend, Police Chief of East Dundee PD and State Director for Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run, Joe Pena asked her to attend a weekend at this event called the “Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games”. She was hesitant, as she had three young daughters, Meggan, Nicole, and Sara to take care of. But, she took the opportunity, and of course, her and extremely supportive husband with everything Special Olympics Illinois, Scott, headed to Bloomington/Normal. “Just one weekend”, Linda quoted. “Well as you know, just one time turns into a lifetime”. This “one time” was in 1998, 22 years ago.

Now for Meggan, she was only at the age of four when she attended this first summer games event. From this moment, by the time she was eight, she was wanting to be a special education teacher. She, along with her sisters, became so attached to the Special Olympics, that they gave up going on a trip to Disney World, as the dates of the Summer Games would overlap their time at Disney. Meggan quoted her saying when she was younger: “No mom, we’re not going to Disney because our friends will miss us, they will be looking for us”, their friends being the Special Olympics Illinois athletes that they had become so close to.

With Meggan’s love and constant involvement with the Special Olympics community, and of course wanting to be a Special Education teacher since she was eight years old, she went on to be a Special Education teacher at Mill Creek Elementary School in Geneva. She personally works with five intellectually disabled children, or as she calls them, “kiddos”, in a self-contained room, mainly where the kids spend 70-80% of the school day. What this is, is a room, just like a classroom, where these kiddos are taught more life-based information and instruction. Now for the other 20-30% of the school day, the students spend their time with other children in the school, whether that be at recess, lunch, or other school gatherings. “I look at it now (being involved with the Special Olympics) as a teacher, I wish more parents and more families would teach that acceptance and provide those opportunities to kids, just to make the world a better place”.

For Linda, she could not be more proud of her daughter Meggan and the direction she has gone with helping intellectually disabled children. She herself stays involved with Special Olympics Illinois to this day:

“Those were some amazing family times. Watching the girls grow up with the love they have for the athletes, the excitement, looking for certain athletes they had bonded with, had started a relationship with. As parents, Scott and I were so proud of them, and I think they grew up accepting everybody…they grew up around these athletes that they were just like them. The athletes were just like them”.

She, along with her family, wants people to understand that someone who is intellectually disabled is no different than us. They can do the same, if not more, than many of us! They are able to touch our hearts and change the lives of many, just as they did for Linda and Meggan.