More Inspiring Stories Stories

My Son Ooozes with Confidence


 

Before a baby arrives, parents talk about endless possibilities.  They plan ahead and they make sure everything is perfect.  Parents dream about a bright and beautiful path for their child, and that path is paved by their own experiences because, naturally, to that point, that’s all they know.

The day arrives that they’ve been waiting for and a child with intellectual disabilities is placed in their arms. They are not sure at first how to communicate their fears and the myriad of other thoughts and emotions that come and go.  Well-intentioned friends and family have a hard time communicating, as well, which often makes things more difficult.  Doctor visits also are discouraging as the general focus is defining what this child cannot do, as opposed to what it can.       

Brook and Dave, Jack Klawitter’s parents, made an early decision to blaze a trail down a new path and to not be angry or frustrated but, instead, to celebrate their child.  They received a recommendation from Jack’s physical therapist to try Special Olympics Illinois.

Later, they headed to Normal, Illinois, to have Jack participate for the first time in the Young Athletes program.  Anticipation of that new experience came with fear and a roller coaster of emotions for Brook.  She noted that she didn’t know if being involved in Special Olympics would come with a stigma.  Instead, the experience became the first day of Jack’s life when Brook and Dave enjoyed a sense of calm and community.  “It was the first day we got to celebrate Jack openly.  Celebrate him.  It wasn’t to compare.  We just got to celebrate,” notes Brook.  “In that day and in that moment. It was just about being somewhere that we were comfortable.  Not measured. Not evaluated. And we got to be. People helped us celebrate what Jack could do, not what he couldn’t do.”

Brook recalls that the children participating in Special Olympics that day, and every day forward, whether with disabilities or not, are ALL learning to run, jump, kick, balance, and more, at the same time.  “Because he participated in Young Athletes, he could participate in the exact same way!  He didn’t know the impact he was having,” she says. 

That impact can be seen through Jack’s two sisters, Sophia and Marion, who, Brook says, “treat everyone like they are individuals and are incredibly supportive.”  

Jack’s involvement in Special Olympics Illinois also allowed the Klawitter family to become part of something bigger that what they had known before, and they realized that they were supported by an entire village of individuals who genuinely care for both Jack and their whole family. 

As is a core goal for Special Olympics Illinois, the experience and environmental gains go far beyond the fields of play.  In Jack’s case, and in the case of thousands of other athletes, Special Olympics helps to develop lifetime skills for all chapters of that person’s life.  Brook fondly notes, “Young athletes set him up for PE and recess.  In Kindergarten, it is PE and recess when they set up social skills.  (Jack) learned those skills and practiced them on a regular basis.”  She continues with a specific example from their local park district t-ball league.  “He was happy and confident participating with all typically developing peers and you realize then, in those times, when he is doing this confidently, that he is starting to change minds and attitudes.  These are the people that need to see beyond the almond shaped eyes.”

When listening to Brook speak, you hear the words of a proud mother boasting about her son.  This is the same mother that looked at her newborn with Downs Syndrome and thought about that path of success that she and Dave had mentally laid out prior to his birth.  In many ways, that path is more firm and straight that many parents in their shoes could imagine.  “Jack oozes with confidence,” Brook says.  “He sees every opportunity. Every moment, as a new opportunity for success.  Because he has a thousand opportunities instead of ten, the 20 times when he HAS failed, he shrugs it off and tries again.” 

When asked to summarize a few keys of what Special Olympics provides for Jack, Brook notes, “(Special Olympics Illinois gives the) right support and process in place for him.  He is absolutely going to be successful in that environment, and when he is successful, he grows confidence and believes he can do the next thing.  He sees everything as a chance to succeed.”

Jack’s successes in just 14 years of life so far range from competitions won to hugs and high-fives from peers everywhere.  Before Jack’s birth, Brook and Dave dreamed about a bright and beautiful future for their child.  They just had no idea that the bright would come in the form of bronze, silver, and gold, and the beautiful would come from the smiles on the faces of everyone who calls Jack Klawitter a friend. From your friends at Special Olympics Illinois, Happy Birthday Jack!   


2019 MedFest a Huge Success


 

On November 6, 2019, the United Center hosted the 21st Annual Special Olympics Illinois MedFest. The 2019 MedFest brought over 1,700 aspiring and current Special Olympics athletes from across the city of Chicago to the United Center.

Athletes received free sports physicals from over 100 health professionals from Advocate Medical Group. Since its inception, an outstanding 29,000 exams have been given.

MedFest provides Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and Independent Agencies the opportunity to receive a complete – and completely free – sports physical from our medical partners at Advocate Medical Group.

Once a physical examination indicates the individual is healthy, the athlete is cleared to begin training, competition, and routine physical activity expected for participation in his or her sport.

Beyond the free sports physical, MedFest introduces athletes to a variety of health initiatives such as Opening Eyes and Healthy Habits Stations (Hydration & Physical Activity).

Opening Eyes provided by Lions International supplied over 170 athletes free eye exams and eyewear. The Hydration Station saw around 300 athletes. There, athletes learned about healthy drink choices.

The Physical Activity station was a massive hit for athletes. Athletes chose from a variety of exercises such as jumping jacks or pushup then competed to see how many of each activity they could complete in 30 seconds. Additionally, athletes learned other healthy tips such as limiting TV time and getting a good night’s rest.

MedFest and its’ 21 years of entirety could not be what it is today without dedicated volunteers. Over 200 people volunteered this year alone– stemming from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Ridgewood High School, St. Rita High School, United Airlines, United Center, and Walgreens, to name a few.

From donating the venue space to the event production, hospitality, medial, and security staff, the United Center sources a volunteer base from many different departments making them an integral part of the success of the event.

“Volunteering at Special Olympics Illinois’s MedFest is such a rewarding experience,” said Robert Reynolds – an employee at Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois.

Robert has been involved with MedFest for a couple of years. He was so enthralled by the event and its’ impact he later proposed the idea of volunteering to his colleagues at Walgreens.

 “The best part of MedFest is, without a doubt, the athletes– their smiles, joy, and high-fives.” Robert encouraged his colleagues, like Kaenye Prince, to join him.

“This year is my second year of volunteering at MedFest,” explained Kaenye.

“I volunteer to give back to the community, yet I leave MedFest with a renewed sense of joy and fulfillment, which comes from the athletes, and the daily obstacles they may face.”

MedFest would not be possible without the continuous support of The United Center, Advocate Medical Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Levy Restaurants, Jewel Osco, and Astellas, local high schools -St. Rita and Ridgewood. These partners have dedicated their time and staff to MedFest for 21 incredible years.


Lisa Menichino Kicks off the CCIW Women’s Tennis Championship with the Opening Serve


 

Saturday, October 19, marked an exciting day for long-time tennis player Lisa Menichino. Lisa kicked off the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Women’s Tennis Championship with an honorary serve.

She has been competing with Special Olympics Illinois since 1985. Lisa cherishes Special Olympics for many reasons, some of which provided Lisa the opportunity to play sports, including tennis.

Lisa was honored to take part in such an inclusive event. The experience was exhilarating as it was her first time at a tennis championship of this caliber.

“The CCIW was honored to have Special Olympics Illinois athlete Lisa Menichino on hand to kick off the final day of the 2019 CCIW Women’s Tennis Championship on October 19,” CCIW Assistant Executive Director Mike Krizman said.

At the event, Lisa said a few inspiring words to the crowd, wished the group good luck, and prepared for her honorary serve.

Lisa’s 20 years of tennis experience did not let her down as she served to Carroll University’s No. 1 singles player, Grace Krueger.

“She truly embodies all of the wonderful traits that being a Special Olympics athlete is all about, and we were honored to have her as our guest.”

Special Olympics Illinois and CCIW built a partnership in 2012. The connection was established through a bocce ball clinic between Special Olympics Illinois and the CCIW Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). The clinic is held annually in conjunction with CCIW’s end-of-the-year SAAC meeting.

“We’re proud of our partnership with Special Olympics Illinois,” Krizman continued. “The CCIW looks forward to growing that partnership through additional collaboration and participation in the future.”

View Lisa’s Honorary Serve here!


SO Athlete, Nick Lorenz wins Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres


 

It is with such pride to hear stories about how Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) grows the confidence of athlete’s well-being off the field of play, helping them achieve such great things at school, in social circles, and in the workplace. So, when Nick Lorenz won The 2019 Ben Marcus Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres for his commitment and customer service to the organization, it was well deserved, and fits Nick’s energetic personality. Another key criteria to selecting award winners is finding exceptional associates who have gone above and beyond in their volunteering for others. Not only is Nick a Special Olympics Illinois athlete of 16 years (Basketball, Volleyball, Golf, Swimming, Bocce Ball, Bowling and Track & Field), but he goes above and beyond for SOILL as a competitor, a fundraiser, and a volunteer. Separate of Special Olympics Illinois, Nick is a volunteer for Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Marcus Theatres is a division of The Marcus Corporation that is the fourth largest theater circuit in the Unites States and currently owns or operates 1,106 screens at 91 locations in 17 states. One location is in Orland Park, Illinois, where Nick has worked for three

years doing everything from taking tickets, to helping in the lobby and concession area, to customer service. “I like helping customers find their theater and helping them at concessions with the pop machine. I like working with all of my co-workers.”, Nick says.

As his parents, Pam and Scott say, “He loves his job at Marcus and feels like he is a big part of the community.” They site Special Olympics Illinois as a big contributor to their son’s confidence and continued outgoing personality, “It has helped Nick become a stronger person, both mentally and physically, (it has) taught him how to handle both winning and losing the right way. Since becoming a Global Messenger, with Special Olympics Illinois, his self-confidence has grown immensely.”

Congratulations to you, Nick for proving what you can do in sport, at work, and in the community. Being a Global Messenger is one part of the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program, and by winning this award, you are showing what it is to be a leader for all of us. Keep up the great work!

(Pictured left, Nick Lorenz and Greg Marcus, President and CEO of The Marcus Corporation.)


Three Truck Convoys One Common Cause


 

This fall, law enforcement and truckers throughout the state joined to support Special Olympics Illinois. Officers involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois adopted the Truck Convoy as one of their annual signature events, and now the group hosts three Truck Convoys across Illinois: the Sears Centre Convoy in Hoffman Estates, the Troy Truck Convoy (hosted by CIT Trucks), and the Tinley Park Convoy (presented by Action Truck Parts). Together, these events raised $160,000, and in total, 285 trucks participated.

The annual event not only raises funds to benefit the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois, but it also fosters long-time friendships.

Mark Hohs, a long-time driver for Jewel-Osco, is set to retire after 37 years of unwavering devotion to the company. Upon retirement, Mark will “pass the Truck Convoy torch” to fellow Jewel-Osco driver, Jim Bowen, who also has close ties to Special Olympics Illinois.

Mark began driving in the Truck Convoys through working at Jewel-Osco. Jewel-Osco is a proud sponsor of Special Olympics Illinois and was well represented on the road during the Truck Convoys.

The past four years, Mark participated in the Sears Centre and Tinley Park Convoys, this year being his final year of participation. Over those four years, Mark grew close to Steve Katz, a Special Olympics Illinois athlete from Arlington Heights. From the beginning, the two bonded, as they both are proud employees of Jewel-Osco. The duo drove together during the Sears Centre and Tinley Park Convoys for four years straight.

While driving in the convoy, Mark was never short of encouragement and laughter from his trusty co-pilot, Steve. Mark and Steve would banter on about which truck would lead the group in the convoy this year.

Year after year, Mark walked away from the convoys feeling empowered due to Steve’s motivating attitude to always try his best.

Steve taught Mark what it truly means to be an athlete — commitment, passion, and the “be brave in the attempt” effort it takes to compete.

“I am very proud of Jewel-Osco’s involvement with Special Olympics Illinois,” said Hohs. “Because of Jewel-Osco, I met Steve, which created lasting memories that the two of us will share.”

We graciously thank Mark for his dedication to Special Olympics Illinois and welcome Jim with open arms to our Special Olympics Illinois family.