Health Stories

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.

 â€śThe 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.

19 Years of Impactful Dedication


Play like you practice: What better place to get athletes prepared for a big competition than where they compete?

Over 1,400 aspiring and current Special Olympics Athletes from across the city of Chicago attended the 19th Annual Healthy Athletes MedFest, where they received free sports physicals from over 125 volunteer health professionals from Advocate Medical Group. Since its inception, outstanding 26,000 exams have been given.

The Chicago MedFest provides Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and Independent Agencies serving individuals with special needs (and their peers from other service 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 that it is safe for someone to become a Special Olympics athlete, 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 structured Special Olympics activities, allowing them to maintain habits for a healthier lifestyle year-round and potentially reducing or preventing future health concerns. This event is a model of service that has been adopted worldwide.

For 19 years, the Chicago Medfest has made the seemingly impossible happen, year after year. Medfest could not happen without the continuous support of The United Center, Levy Restaurants, and the Advocate Medical Group, all three organizations have opened their doors and dedicated staff to MedFest for 19 amazing years.

Advocate Medical Group

The slogan “Not All Heroes Wear Capes,” is an apt descriptor for event partners and providers from Advocate Medical Group. Their health professionals travel from all ends of the state just to volunteer at MedFest. The more than 125 health professionals who routinely attend have called this day “better than Christmas”. Athletes and health professionals look forward to this event every year.

“We have an overabundance of volunteers, where we actually have to turn people down because our staff is so interested in participating in this annual event,” Dr. Richard Bone, Vice President of Medical Management in the south region of Advocate Medical Group.

Dr. Richard Bone hit the ground running and for multiple years, has taken the lead with Advocate’s continuous support of Medfest. Advocate and Dr. Bone have been strong resources for the expansion of different Medfests around the state. Advocate supports the Bloomington Illinois, Southern Cook County, and single school MedFests along with the Chicago MedFest.

MedFest creates an extremely positive experience for the Advocate medical professionals in every field. This event often introduces medical students to individuals with intellectual disabilities in a very relaxed environment. MedFest takes an unfamiliar and a little bit scary situation and turns it into a comfortable atmosphere for the athletes.

In its history, MedFest has received financial support from Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Astellas USA Foundation, Mattel, GE, Topfer Family Foundation, Lion’s Club International, Cashel Foundation, and the Dr. Scholl Foundation – among other corporate and individual donors. These generous partners have helped us secure transportation to and from the event for athletes from every neighborhood in the city, as well as provided hospitality and warm long-sleeve event shirts (a must when the ice is down in the United Center!) for our volunteer medical staff.

This event is impactful for more than its number of athletes served; it is remembered for its continuous welcoming smiles, endless stickers, and countless high fives!

Graduate Nursing Program Clinical Experience with Special Olympics- Presentation in Ireland


This upcoming month at the end of July, Special Olympics has the amazing opportunity to have their voice heard even stronger across the world, in Dublin, Ireland. Doctors Melissa A. Murphey and Kathleen A. Muglia have taken a different step to teaching their nursing students at Resurrection University in Chicago, IL. These university educators have taken on the incredible task of travelling to six different secondary schools all across Chicago from November 2016 up until February of 2017 to provide physical exams to those who are in need of it the most. These schools consist of Vaughn Occupational High School, Northside Learning, Southside Occupational, Christopher School, and Ray Graham School.

The educators and young professionals decided it would be not only a learning experience, but also a better life experience for them and their students to provide physical exams to patients with special needs. The purpose of this journey was to pair nurse practitioner students to expose the athletes with different needs and in turn to fulfill their need for physical exams in term of their needs. The key focuses of educating these individuals were exercise and proper nutrition. The doctors and their students really wanted these individuals to better understand the risks that are associated with health issues, such as obesity.

Dr. Melissa Murphey was more than happy to speak to us at Special Olympics Illinois to give more information about this incredible opportunity she has to present and speak about this experience at the end of July in Dublin, Ireland at Sigma Theta Tau’s 28th International Nursing Research Congress. Her accepted research is titled, “Collaboration with Special Olympics: Graduate Nursing Program Successful Clinical Experience.” Dr. Murphey chose to collaborate with Special Olympics because the University that she works for has a long-standing relationship with Special Olympics. She has enjoyed working with Special Olympics in the past and her partner, Dr. Kathleen Muglia, who was previously the Dean really enjoyed meeting the athletes. It is a great opportunity for the nurse practitioner students to be exposed to all different things and learn more than they could anywhere else.

Dr. Murphey has collaborated with Special Olympics for a year and half prior to her taking over as Dean. Her co-worker, Dr. Muglia has also collaborated with Special Olympics before as well. Dr. Murphey states, “Special Olympics provides a diverse learning experience for athletes and students. When you are evaluating high school age students and see large numbers of these students you are exposed to so many differences within the athletes and the nursing students are given such a great learning experience. They all really enjoy it.”

When collaborating with Special Olympics, Dr. Murphey mentioned how her and one of her past co-workers, Mike Rackov, have tried to pair up with inner city Chicago schools in the past because it is a nice opportunity for the doctors and their students to perform a lot of physical exams. She also mentioned how it can often be difficult and expensive for some parents to get out to do the exams, so it is helping the parents and their children just as much as it is a lesson for the nursing students.

In Dr. Murphey and Dr. Muglia’s synopsis conclusion, they state “Clinical educators should capitalize on diverse learning experience to provide a more unique learning experience for their graduate student population.” Dr. Melissa Murphey went into more detail with this by stating, “Working with and exposing the students to cerebral palsy and graduate nursing education are taught and there are different methods of determining developmental delay. In pairing these students and completing these exams, we learned that over and over again it shows us how much it transforms their learning. It is more hands on and more effective than sitting down and looking at a PowerPoint. It was also more of an opportunity for them then it was of a scientific one for us. It can be challenging and competitive, but it is a collaborative partnership.”

Educating the caregivers and patients on the importance of exercise and proper nutrition led to further understanding of the risks associated with obesity because what these doctors have bounded in their students at the time was height and weight. If students were in the higher body index, which is greater than 30, it is considered obese. To help prevent this, the students and doctors taught these individuals more about proper eating habits and ways to effectively keep up with their health. Partnering with Special Olympics helped broaden the clinical residency experience of the nurse practitioner students with their graduate nursing program by exposing them to a lot more physical elements and challenges that Special Olympics athletes face. It helps show these students that it is easier and more memorable to collaborate and examine these patients in person than it would be in just learning about them in a model way.

The importance of Special Olympic athletes keeping up with their physical exams is extremely high because it is more than just meeting the requirements. It is always helpful to stay up to date with physical exams and focus on what might be bothering the athletes physically within their bodies, especially with elements such as their heart and lungs. A good thorough exam is always a high priority for these athletes.

One big thing Dr. Murphey mentions that she has learned from collaborating with Special Olympics and that she will use in the future throughout her career is learning about adolescence with special needs has made her extremely grateful and very willing to learn. It has been a wonderful educational experience for both herself as an educator and it is so very rewarding. It has helped make her more grateful for her health and every time she leaves an event with Special Olympics, she feels extremely rewarded.

Mr. Corrigan Goes to Washington


By Kevin Corrigan, Special Olympics volunteer and student at Marist High School, Chicago

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with Special Olympics Illinois for Capitol Hill Day, the annual event when Special Olympics athletes, volunteers, and executives from across America travel to Washington to meet with their respective state Representatives and lobby for, as was the case this year, continued federal funding.

In our coalition was my father Jim Corrigan, SOILL’s past board chair, and me; Special Olympics Illinois Regional Director Linda Wunder; Kankakee School District special education teacher and coach Penny Sylvester; Unified Partner Kacie Lalumendier of Kankakee and Special Olympics athlete Courtney Illum of Kankakee. We met with nine Illinois legislators and discussed the continuation of the government’s funding toward education and the immersion of those with intellectual disabilities into the school system, as well as grants for medical services such as health screenings for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

People with intellectual disabilities are an often inadequately resourced demographic, contrary to common belief. Many athletes don’t receive proper healthcare due to a lack of physicians who can cope with the demands that an individual with disabilities requires. Individuals with intellectual disabilities are also nearly three times more likely to be bullied at school, and federal funding helps integrate students into schools at a young age, hopefully fostering a more inclusive environment that will reduce the amount of ostracized students.

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, hundreds of the Hill Day participants converged on the Capitol to meet with their Representatives. Our Illinois coalition had a particularly busy day with nine appointments scheduled with either Representatives or their staffers—unfortunately, for Illinois at least, we met with far more staffers than we did Congressmen due to the backlogged Congressional voting schedule that occurred after “Snowpocolypse.”

The meetings with the staffers tended to last 15 minutes. The six of us would sit down and one of us, usually Jim or Linda, would give a little background about Special Olympics, the success we have enjoyed, and emphasize the number of Illinois athletes – which exceeds 42,000 between traditional and Young Athletes and grows annually. Then we’d discuss our funding request and explain our reliance on federal money – due to the fact that Special Olympics is a not-for-profit organization. The Congressman or staffer would then generally ask a few question. My role in the group was that of a volunteer and I often fielded questions such as “Why did you join Special Olympics?” or “What is the role of a volunteer on a daily basis?” After our short talk, it was time for pictures outside with the Representatives’ name plaque, followed by a brisk walk through the annals of the Capitol in an attempt to reach the next meeting.

Our trip to D.C. was a major success, with Representatives and Senators from both parties and every state pledging their support, both personally and monetarily, for Special Olympics. Who knew bipartisanship was so easy?

In photo above are (L-R): Kevin Corrigan, Penny Sylvester, Courtney Illum, Kacie Lalumendier, Linda Wunder and Jim Corrigan

More than 1,600 Athletes Get Physicals at Chicago MedFest


On Oct. 22, the United Center played host to student athletes, coaches, healthcare professionals and volunteers throughout Chicago. They were all there for the 16th Annual Chicago MedFest.

2014ChicagoMedFest-AM3295Between 7 a.m.  and noon that day, more than 1,600 current and aspiring Special Olympics Illinois athletes, drawn from Chicago Public Schools and other partnering agencies, received free sports physicals from Advocate Medical Group professionals. Medical clearance is required by Special Olympics to guarantee athlete safety, and receiving this physical exam clears athletes to participate in the program for two years.

Simply put, MedFest provides an easy, free and accessible point of entry for nearly half of the Special Olympics athletes in Chicago. View photos from MedFest.

MedFest is just one part of our total Healthy Athletes offerings. In addition to the sports physicals, 158 athletes had their vision evaluated through the Special Olympics Opening Eyes program. The Illinois College of Optometry staff offered vision screenings to these students and provided free onsite glasses if needed. Of the 158 students who had their vision tested, 20 percent of them were there for the free eye exam alone. This number is increasing as more athletes learn about the availability of this and other Healthy Athletes programs.

Athletes of all ages, ranging from early education to high school and older, were in attendance. For the third year in a row, we saw an increase in the number of Young Athletes who received a screening. This step is crucial to the success of their eventual transition into the traditional Special Olympics program when they become age-eligible.

Those waiting for their physical had a front row seat to watch the Chicago Blackhawks practice. Players and coaches tossed pucks to several lucky athletes.

2014ChicagoMedFest-AM3318After they completed their physicals, these athletes were treated to a delicious boxed lunch, provided free of charge by Levy Restaurants. Special Olympics Illinois coordinated and covered the cost of transporting athletes to the United Center and returning them to their respective schools and agencies.

MedFest was created in an effort to involve more children and adults into the program as many athletes – for one reason or another – are not able to obtain this sports physical on their own. Healthy initiatives like these speak to the broader scope of the Special Olympics Illinois’ mission and to the many ways the organization positively influences the lives of its participants.

Thank you to Advocate Medical Group, United Center and Levy Restaurants for their in-kind support of this event. Furthermore, MedFest is made possible through grant and volunteer support from BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois, BlueCross BlueShield Association, GE and Mattel, with additional grant support from the Stack Family Foundation. Without these partners, none of this would be possible.