Athlete Leadership Stories

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.      

Apolo Ohno Podcast Interview


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

A Father’s Perspective on Special Olympics Illinois


How the organization has influenced not only my daughter, but also my entire family.

By Ken Walker

My daughter, Emilee Walker, got her start with Special Olympics Illinois fifteen years ago when her teacher asked her if she would like to join the Special Olympics bowling team. Emilee took a leap of faith and said yes.

While Emilee was competing we volunteered at the tournament. Our family ended up loving the experience so much that we met the Region Director, Cathy Betar, and were asked to help with future tournaments. That day marked the beginning of a life-long journey with Special Olympics Illinois. Fifteen years later and we are still volunteering at various events.

Over that time, our family has had many memories to cherish. Emilee has such a strong love for bowling, so much so she wishes she could live at the bowling alley. Both the sport and Special Olympics have helped Emilee to see that she is not alone.

Competing with Special Olympics Illinois has given my daughter a sense of community. She has come to realize that her fellow athletes are accepting of her for who she is despite her disability.

Because of Special Olympics sports like bowling and track and field, our whole family began making friendships.

In 2014, Emilee was chosen to represent Illinois at the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. There she competed in bowling and won a gold, silver, and bronze medal. USA Games were one of many firsts for Emilee. She flew on an airplane for the first time and saw the Statue of Liberty. Her favorite part of the entire experience was the opening ceremony where every delegation was highlighted as they walked in. As parents, we could not be more proud!

In 2016, Emilee took another big step and became a Global Messenger. The Athlete Leadership program has helped her gain the confidence to tell her story. Emilee has made several speeches at large events, as well as been featured on local TV to help promote fundraisers for the organization. 

Special Olympics Illinois is not just an organization dedicated to individuals with disabilities, nonetheless a family- a wonderful family to us. If someone in our Special Olympics family is hurting, we are there to console them. If they are celebrating a happy moment, we are there to celebrate with them. If they are doing a fundraiser of any kind, we are there volunteering to support Special Olympics Illinois. 

With all of this said, our family could not have foreseen the incredible impact the organization has made on not only Emilee, but also our entire family. Register at your family table, you won’t regret it.

Meet Eddie Sitzman


Eddie is a very busy sixteen year old living a productive life filled with family, education, faith, community, and athletics.

He attends Oak Park and River Forest High School where he learns in an inclusive, general education environment with support from resource and co-teachers.  He is an Usher at Sunday mass, provides care and feeding of pets in the neighborhood, and helps manage the varsity soccer team.  Best Buddies and Opportunity Knocks are among his social outlets and he is looking forward to his second summer at Camp PALS, a sleep away camp for young adults with Down syndrome.  Eddie is a natural athlete with a strong will to succeed and a passion to participate in sport in any form.

We were introduced to Special Olympics Illinois in 2008 by a fellow parishioner who asked whether our five year old would be interested in a Young Athlete Program.  The next week our new friend stopped by the house with a bag full of athletic gear and instructions for physical activities.  We created obstacle courses and games and watched as our intent for purposeful development of fundamental motor skills and eye-hand coordination transformed into inclusive play and athletic competition among neighbors and classmates.  At the age of nine, Eddie started training with West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA) to participate in his first Special Olympics track and field competition.  Classmates, teachers, and extended family came to watch, Eddie thrived on the attention and we witnessed the unleashing of his competitive spirit.  It was clear that this was going to be his thing…and his extended family and friends came along for the ride.

Among the driving forces for Eddie’s development in middle school was a dynamic special education teacher who championed inclusion and nurtured Eddie’s evolving self-awareness.  She guided him into the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program where he became a member of the Youth Activation Committee made up of young people from around the state committed to activating students with the tools and skills to build cultures of inclusiveness.  His athletic achievement expanded from regional to the Special Olympics Summer Games and a Unified Soccer team that competed in Special Olympics tournaments at Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park.

Now in his sophomore year of high school, Eddie’s passion for athletic competition is fulfilled by Unified Soccer (State Champions), Basketball (State Qualified), and Swimming (State Qualified).   Sidelined by the global response to COVID-19, his plans to compete in Special Olympics Track & Field, Soccer, and Golf have given way to long walks, bike rides, and shooting baskets in the back yard…and plenty of time to reflect on the person he has become.

Eddie is aware that he has a disability, accepts the inherent challenges, and genuinely likes who he is. As a Youth Activation representative he advocated to “Spread the Word to End the Word” in classrooms and at events.  He appeared on Fox Morning News to talk about celebrating our differences and helped create the tag line “Respect is My Superpower”. 

Physical fitness and healthy choices are part of Eddie’s mindset and daily routine.  The quality of the Special Olympics experience has instilled in him a life-long interest in healthy behavior that has made him more resilient and will improve the quality of his adult life.

The structure of Special Olympics competition has allowed Eddie to find his level of excellence, celebrate his abilities and convey a quiet confidence in every aspect of his life.  He believes that with the right attitude and effort good things are possible. 

Eddie is an extraordinary young man and a positive influence in the collaboration that forms the fabric of his community….’it takes a village’.  We would be remiss not to express our deep gratitude to members of the Oak Park School and Park Districts, Special Recreation Associations, his incredible classmates and their parents…and of course our fellow parishioner, now good friend, who introduced us to Special Olympics Illinois.

Meet Stephen Katz


Stephen Katz is a young man of many talents. Born in November of 1984, Stephen entered the world with blond hair, blue eyes, nostagmia, Down Syndrome, and jaundice. The jaundice gave way to several days under the Billierubin Lights… perhaps that was a sign of things to come as stage lights were in his future!

Stephen also had hypotonia which is a weak muscle condition that caused his arms and legs to just hang from his body. That diagnosis gave way to a word being eliminated from our vocabulary: “CAN’T.” After so many doctors, specialists, insurance companies and other professionals left our family overloaded with “CAN’TS,” we chose “CAN” and boy “CAN” he ever now!

Stephen has been bagging groceries for the last 14+ years at Jewel/Osco and has been named Employee of the Month. He also was named The Change for Champions Ambassador for Special Olympics Illinois/Jewel-Osco in 2016. On top of winning numerous Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and Ribbons in his 27 years of competition, he is training to become a Global Messenger and earn the Navy Blue Blazer. Stephen has participated in many sports over the years, starting with Track & Field when he was eight years old. He has a long list of sports that he has participated in including Running and Standing Long Jumps, Softball Throw, 50- and100-Meter dash and Relay, and then Shot Put in High School. Basketball was added in Middle School, continued through High School, and he still participates with the local Special Rec Association. SRA also provided the training needed for gymnastics, which he also added in High School and progressed and continued after graduation in 2006. Swimming, Volleyball and Powerlifting were also added in High School, and he continued volleyball for several years, as well, after he graduated. Stephen retired approximately 10 years ago as an All Around Athlete, with his final District meet netting him all Gold medals in his seven events.

His prowess in powerlifting continues with an independent team called “The Rebels” with his workouts taking place at a local CrossFit facility. Stephen’s current lift stats as of the 2019 Special Olympic Illinois Summer Games included the Squat at 250 lbs., where he earned silver; Benchpress at 205lbs., where he earned Bronze; and Deadlift at 315 lbs., where he earned Gold!

Stephen doesn’t stop there! He also plays baseball for the BGRA Buddy Baseball League, and it was his idea to also help coach the junior teams.
Weeks, months and years of feeding, occupational, speech and physical therapies have led Stephen to enjoy tasting new foods, like reindeer sausage on a trip to Alaska, and Stephen’s “CAN DO” spirit has helped him to achieve many of his successes in sports and in life. He has walked across a suspension bridge in Tennessee, explored caves in South Dakota, sledded down a 300-foot ice run in Fairbanks, Alaska, and changed diapers (only #1…) for his niece and nephews. He also adds modeling and volunteering for the NWSRA/SLSF Gold Medal Fashion Show to his list of non-stop activities!

Stephen has two Looney Tunes illustrations hanging in his room. One says “Determination” and the other says “Persistence.” Perhaps it is those that have encouraged his “Can Do” spirit and his “Funnyman” sense of humor. That spirit helped earn him the Freeburg award in 2006. Stephen volunteers for NWSRA/SLSF, the local Frontier Days Festival, and Special Olympics Illinois, and in 2012 Stephen and his parents received the Volunteer Family of the Year Award from Special Olympics Illinois.
Stephen continues to impress with his smile, sense of humor, and willingness to help, but it is that “CAN DO” spirit that truly makes him special.