Healthy Athletes Stories

Klawitter Family is Role Model for Family Leadership


Volunteers were busy handing out sunscreen, lip balm and UV bracelets to athletes and coaches throughout the weekend of the 2016 Special Olympics Summer Games in Normal. The Sun Safety program, sponsored by Astellas USA Foundation, was new to the Summer Games Healthy Athletes Program this year. Over the three-day event, the program passed out 1,600 packets of sunscreen and 2,000 sunscreen lip balms.

The Klawitter Family: parents Dave and Brook, Special Olympics athlete Jack and sisters Sophia and Mary

The Klawitter Family: parents Dave and Brook, Special Olympics athlete Jack and sisters Sophia and Mary

On Saturday morning, the Klawitter family was wearing Healthy Athletes T-shirts and pulling a cart of Sun Safety products around the Illinois State University campus. In addition to Special Olympics athlete Jack and his parents, David and Brook, were two little girls with charismatic grins and happy attitudes. For Jack’s younger sisters, Sophia, 8, and Mary, 5, being a part of Special Olympics is second nature. Both girls have participated in the Young Athletes Program, where kids ages 2-7 can participate alongside their peers with disabilities.

Since the girls are now older, this has lead the Klawitter family to a new take on #TeamJack: finding activities the whole family can take part in like selling ducks, plunging and participating in the Sun Safety Program. Sophia and Mary have become role models for those with Special Olympics athletes as brothers or sisters. As Sophia stated, “It is really fun to cheer for our brother and help other athletes. We love it when we have a job to do and are able to help out!” And as for Jack, having his sisters around is what he prefers. His favorite thing to do as a family is “anything together!”

Special Olympics Illinois has brought the Klawitter family into an environment of support and success. They attended their first Special Olympics event when Jack was 2 years old. “We found a large community there to join us in cheering for our son and every athlete,” said Brook. “I strongly believe that because of all of the opportunities for success and all the cheers, Jack has developed self-confidence that makes him approach new situations with a can-do attitude.”

“One challenge of having a child with disabilities is that so many activities are for your typically developing child or for your child with disabilities so, as parents, we have to split up to support each family member,” said Brook. However, the Klawitters have found their answer. “Through Special Olympics, we have found ways to participate as a family and that keeps us close and reinforces the bonds between our kids.” Jack agreed, saying “I like it when my sisters cheer for me and my team. It makes me feel special.”

2016SG-ME1000Brook said her favorite part of Summer Games, other than watching Jack compete in aquatics, was “handing out Sun Safety items to a few adult soccer teams. It was great to see the camaraderie that existed between the teams and to be able to talk to them about their games. Aside from giving us a glimpse into Jack’s future, it was so fun to hear from the teams about their games and their pride for their achievements so far.” Mary added she loves to cheer for the athletes and for Sophia, she said she enjoys “walking around and meeting people.”

The Klawitters, have already confirmed their participation for next year’s Sun Safety Program. So keep an eye out for them – they will be happy to talk about Sun Safety, family involvement or anything that comes up.

If you are a family looking to become more involved, please check our website at or email Karen Milligan, Director of Families & Athlete Leadership.

By Kaylee Kurtz , Families Intern

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.

Springfield Athlete First in Illinois to Receive Free Hearing Aids Through Special Olympics Healthy Hearing


David Wargo, 49, of Thayer was all smiles on Aug. 6 when he received two new Phonak hearing aids at the office of Dr. Charles Swain at Springfield Clinic Audiology.

Audiologist Stephanie Born fitted David Wargo with hearing aids.

Audiologist Stephanie Born fitted David Wargo with hearing aids.

David is the first athlete in Illinois to receive hearing aids from Special Olympics Healthy Hearing and Phonak’s Hear the World Foundation. David had his hearing screened at this year’s Summer Games and was referred for follow-up, said Lindsay Bondurant, Special Olympics Health Hearing Clinical Director for Illinois.

Katherine Wargo took her son to see Dr. Swain for full testing and it was determined that he needed hearing aids in both ears. David had been wearing a hearing aid in his right ear since 2010, but the cost for two aids was prohibitive.

“His hearing has become worse in the past year due to his diabetes,” said Katherine Wargo. “He kept saying ‘Huh?’ when I was talking to him.”

“He’ll hear much better with two aids,” said audiologist Stephanie Born. “This will really help with sports and he’ll hear all the sounds from all directions.”

Born told David to wear the aids all the time, except when showering or swimming. “Now you can hear the coach,” she told him, adding that the aids would adjust the volume of sound by themselves.

“I’m so glad I sent him through Healthy Athletes,” said Katherine Wargo. “I don’t know what we’d do without Special Olympics. When we learned we were receiving these aids, we thought we’d never been that lucky,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Katherine and David Wargo thank Dr. Charles Swain of Springfield Clinic Audiology

Katherine and David Wargo thank Dr. Charles Swain of Springfield Clinic Audiology

The Phonak hearing aids come with a one-year warranty to repair or replace the aids, plus free batteries for a year. Bondurant estimated the value of the voucher at about $4,000.

“These are really good hearing aids, top of the line,” said Dr. Swain. Special Olympics Healthy Hearing presented Dr. Swain and Springfield Clinic with a Special Friend Award for helping David receive his hearing aids.

Special Olympics Illinois has been offering the Healthy Hearing initiative since 2010, when Bondurant came to Illinois from Pennsylvania, where she had been involved since2002. The Phonak voucher program has been available in Illinois since March and was piloted nationwide about two years ago.

Nearly 250 people received hearing screenings at Summer Games this year, a number nearly double last year’s participation. “Anyone (coaches, families, volunteers) who wants a hearing screening can receive one,” said Bondurant. The voucher program is available for athletes only.

Lindsay Bondurant, left, Special Olympics Healthy Hearing Clinical Director for Illinois

Lindsay Bondurant, left, Special Olympics Healthy Hearing Clinical Director for Illinois was happy to see David get his hearing aids

Bondurant, an assistant professor in Communication Services and Disorders at Illinois State University in Normal, said 25 percent of athletes don’t pass the screenings. “The incidence of hearing loss in this population is higher than in the general population.”

David and Katherine Wargo have been invited to talk at a Phonak reception in Chicago later this month to offer their thanks to the company and explain how Special Olympics has affected their lives.

David has participated in Special Olympics since 1982 and competes in six sports – cross-country skiing, bocce, volleyball, bowling, basketball and softball. He was named Special Olympics Illinois Athlete of the Year in 1994. “He has achieved so much through Special Olympics,” said his mother.

To transform the lives of athletes like David, donate now.Donate Today

By Michele Evans Henson, Director of Communications

First Ever TRAIN Event Held in Illinois


What is TRAIN?

StudyingSpecial Olympics Illinois (SOILL) held its first ever TRAIN (Testing Recreational Activities and Improving Nutrition) event on Tuesday, July 16, at Stevenson Elementary School in Elk Grove Village. TRAIN is a new program being launched by Special Olympics International (SOI) with the support of Finish Line. The TRAIN program is designed to be a fun way for athletes to test their physical skills, discover new sports to play and learn about exercise and nutrition.

SOILL selected Stevenson Elementary School in District 54 as the first school to pilot this event because of its long history of Special Olympics involvement and its willingness to try out new programs.

Benefits of TRAIN

District 54 Special Olympics Coordinator Dave Luzwick has been involved in Special Olympics for more than six years. Currently all 27 Coach Daveschools from District 54 participate in Special Olympics. Luzwick feels the TRAIN program is a great addition. “I’m lucky to have the best job,” said Luzwick and he sees the benefits in the TRAIN program. “There is not enough focus on nutrition so it is good to teach this and it is a good tool for assessing kids for sports.”

“TRAIN is a great addition to our school’s curriculum and coaches and parents will appreciate the sport suggestions. It gives both the lower- and higher-functioning athletes a program they can participate in during the summer.”

Special Education teacher Kelly O’Reilly also sees the benefits. “It’s a great program and it could be a useful tool to help measure progress and regression in skills. It could be useful during the school year in conjunction with P.E.”

The TRAIN event allowed 32 Young Athletes to participate and they have already received valuable information from the SNAPPER computer program which compiles results from the each of the 13 stations. The athletes also take home a nutritional placemat and home training kit to help them continue learning and to encourage them to practice good nutrition.

Finish Line Partnership

Medicine Ball and Laughing AthleteSpecial Olympics Illinois first heard about the TRAIN program at the 2012 SOI National Conference in Indianapolis and was selected as one of the pilot programs. Finish Line is helping SOI expand the program thanks to a $35,000 grant for this year and a $5,000 grant for next year.

Future of TRAIN

Special Olympics Illinois plans to continue holding TRAIN events with a few events in the planning stages for 2013 in Chicago. The hope is to eventually grow the TRAIN program throughout the state in future years.

To transform the lives of more athletes, donate now.Donate Today