Unified Stories

Meet Daniel Cramer


 

Daniel Cramer was born on the 25th of June in 1999.  He was born six weeks early, but he quickly gained strength and met all his growth milestones on time.  Sadly, though, when Daniel turned two, he had his first seizure.  He lost all his speech and muscle tone and, suddenly, he was not the little boy we had come to know.  After going from doctor to doctor, Daniel was finally diagnosed with Autism, developmental delay, and seizure disorder.  It took many years of work to get him to talk again and socialize.  When Daniel turned eight, we introduced him to Special Olympics Illinois and the rest is history.

Daniel started bowling and, he loved it so much, he started playing other sports too.  He now participates in Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Track and Field, Tennis, Golf, Volleyball, Powerlifting and Snowshoeing, and is still always looking for more sports to play.

In powerlifting, Daniel can bench 165 pounds, and he lifts 360 pounds in the dead weight competition.  He and his family feel that powerlifting has given Daniel the strength to do well in all his sports.  In the last 12 years of competing, he has earned over 140 medals!

As a highlight of his Special Olympics Illinois career, Daniel was chosen to represent Team USA in the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.  He and his brother Ryan competed in Unified Bocce at the games.  He had the experience of a lifetime meeting other athletes from around the world and making many new friends, many of whom he continues to communicate with through Facebook.  Daniel made everyone very proud when he won gold, silver, and bronze medals for Team USA!

When Daniel came home, he was honored by the Mayor of Round Lake Beach at a groundbreaking Heroes ceremony. He also went to Springfield and was honored by Governor Pritzker during a luncheon at the Governors Manson.

Along with great sports skills, Daniel also demonstrates leadership skills, as well.  For example, after he graduated high school, there wasn’t a local basketball team on which Daniel could play, so he decided to start his own team!  He got six friends to join, found a local, indoor court to use and, with the help of his mother/coach, team “Independent Remarc‐a‐Bulls” was formed. This season, the team was undefeated and qualified for state!

Daniel continues to play as many sports as he can and, during this uncertain time, he is participating in the online “School of Strength” challenge to stay strong and healthy.  Speaking of healthy, Daniel is also a Health Messenger for Special Olympics Illinois and he takes it very seriously.  He wants to keep all of his fellow athletes fit and healthy, too, and extends his own challenge to all of them…“Will all my fellow athletes please take the challenge and keep fit in this time of social distancing.”

Well said, Daniel, and congratulations on all of your success.  Thank you for setting a wonderful example for your fellow athletes, peers, and everyone!


9th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball All-Star Game


 

By Daniel Smrokowski, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger & Special Olympics Illinois Athlete Leader

From L to R: Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, Nate Wade (SOCO), Carrie Nykiel (SOIL) and Horace Grant

On Friday, February 14, I had an opportunity to be an athlete reporter at the 9th annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game at NBA All-Star 2020 in Chicago. I attended this event, along with my SSIGM mentor & Chief Marketing Officer from Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) Chris Winston and two other marketing & communications staff from SO Illinois, Alex & Bridget. During the Unified game, we sat courtside to watch the exciting game. I was honored and grateful to attend this star-studded sporting event, especially since basketball is one of my favorite sports in Special Olympics to compete in.

Here I am posing with my SOILL colleagues. From L to R: Chris, Alex and Bridget.

This Special Olympics Unified Game took place at the Wintrust Arena on Chicago’s south side during NBA All-Star Week, right before the Celebrity Game. In case you missed the thrilling #NBAAllStar2020 Unified game in the Windy City, the action was streamed live on the NBA’s Facebook page.

We had ten fellow Special Olympics athletes from across our Special Olympics North America Region, one athlete from Special Olympics Belgium (SO Europe-Eurasia Region), and one athlete from Special Olympics South Korea (Special Olympics East Asia Region). The teams were divided into two — the East Team (Home) and the West Team (Away). Both teams consisted of five Special Olympics athletes per team and celebrity Unified partners. Each team also had volunteer celebrity coaches. The number “24” was branded on the upper left breast of every athlete’s uniform in honor of the late Kobe Bryant, former L.A. Lakers professional athlete.

Sean Annan from SO British Columbia takes on Injae Kim from SO Korea.

Sean Annan, fellow Special Olympics athlete, traveled from his home which is 20 miles from Vancouver, Canada. Sean regularly competes with his team from Special Olympics British Columbia in his Langley program. In addition to basketball, Sean competes in golf. He also competes on a regular softball team.

“It’s a once-in-a-life-time [experience],” said Sean in a post-game interview near the locker rooms. “It’s really special meeting new people from different places [and] I’m having fun, that’s what it’s all about.”

Watch my full postgame interview with Sean on SCTV, the digital television platform on Special Chronicles LIVE: https://youtu.be/iUbVDrZqka0

Post-game interview with hometown hero Carrie Nykiel.

Directly from our home state of Special Olympics Illinois, USA, fellow Special Olympics athlete Carrie Nykiel didn’t have to travel far as she competes right in the Chicago area. Carrie competes in mostly every sport including volleyball, softball, and powerlifting.

“It was an amazing, great experience, [and] first time doing it,” said Carrie during a postgame interview after an excellent star-studded Unified basketball game during the NBA All-Star 2020.

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Carrie LIVE from the Wintrust Arena on Special Chronicles LIVE and airing on SCTV: https://youtu.be/jGuB0lIxQeo

Posing for a pic with singer/songwriter Andy Grammer!

For those who have attended any of our many Special Olympics events, our movement is driven by more than 1.1 million volunteers donating their time and expertise. That’s true for Andy Grammer, triple-platinum singer/songwriter, who stepped up this year as a volunteer coach for the 2020 NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball game.

Moments after the game, I had an opportunity to ask Andy about his experiences serving as a coach for this Special Olympics Unified Sports event.

“It’s the way it makes your heart feel,” said Andy about what the Inclusion Revolution means to him. “This is the best place to be.”

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Andy Grammer LIVE from Chicago on Special Chronicles LIVE — airing on SCTV and on SpecialOlympics.orghttps://youtu.be/bKOqlIszgOE

In memory of the late Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team who had passed away a few weeks prior to this year’s NBA All-Star Week, our Special Olympics Unified Game concluded in an exciting moment that paid tribute to Kobe.

Getting Chris Carter’s reactions to his game-winning steal and jump shot!

Christopher Carter, fellow Special Olympics athlete, traveled from Special Olympics Virginia, USA. Chris’ parents coach for Special Olympics and he says his family lives and breathes basketball. Pointing at the number “24” on his yellow-colored uniform, Chris said his favorite part of the game was a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

The score went back and forth in the fourth quarter and with less than 30 seconds left, Chris’ team was down three. After Unified partner Horace Grant scored to pull his team within one, Chris stole the inbounds pass and hit a baseline jump shot with 11 seconds left to seal the victory for his team.

“If it wasn’t for this number,” said Chris. “The game winning shot, of course, the gaming winning shot” was Chris’ favorite part of this year’s Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game during the NBA All-Star Week.

Watch the full postgame interview I hosted with Chris Carter moments after his winning shot. Now Available to watch on Special Chronicles LIVE, airing on SCTV the Special Chronicles digital television platform, SCTV: https://youtu.be/ff3dI5onvtk

I have to agree that this inclusion moment was my favorite part, too. Amongst many celebrities, we were able to bring our Inclusion Revolution movement to the NBA and the world of professional sporting events. This is the way to be fully included. This is how we can truly live in a Unified world.

Whether we are playing sports or interviewing fellow athletes & celebrities off the court, we all win when we #ChooseToInclude and join the Inclusion Revolution.

Sign the Inclusion Pledge at: JoinTheRevolution.org

Congratulations to all on competing in a thrilling Unified game!


Illinois State Board of Education Awards Project UNIFY, Youth Activation Committee


 

Special Olympics Illinois has received some very exciting news – Project UNIFY and the Youth Activation Committee have received the Award of Excellence from the Illinois State Board of Education as part of its 2013-14 Those Who Excel Awards Program.

Educators are vital to the success of a Project UNIFY program in a school. Their energy and excitement quickly excites students to get actively involved in a meaningful change in their school.

Some very special educators from across the state of Illinois will be recognized Oct. 19 for their outstanding service to Special Olympics Illinois and Project UNIFY. The Those Who Excel Awards Program annually recognizes and honors people who have made outstanding contributions to public and nonpublic elementary and secondary education. The Award of Excellence is the highest level of award presented.

Project UNIFY and the Youth Activation Committee are being recognized in the team category, which recognizes groups of teachers and/or administrators, citizen committees, civic organizations; parent organizations, school boards, booster clubs and others that have a significant impact on teaching and learning in a school or district.

For their work with Project UNIFY and the Youth Activation Committee during the 2012-2013 school year, the following amazing individuals were nominated and will be receiving this prestigious award.

  • District 23, Prospect Heights: Chrys Sroka, Megan Windsor & Jodi Hernandez
  • Mt. Vernon High School: Megan Clodi
  • District 204, Neuqua Valley High School: Joy Pierson & Kim Weichle
  • Pontiac High School: Laura Baumgardner
  • Unit 5, Normal: Kathleen O’Connell & Sondra Simmons
  • District 54, Schaumburg: David Luzwick & Mindy Turf

“The high caliber of this year’s recipients is an excellent example of the outstanding human resources in classrooms, schools and districts across the state,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “It is an honor and privilege to recognize outstanding Illinois educators, administrators, support personnel and community members who go above and beyond on a daily basis to serve our students.”

The educators were nominated by state Education Leaders Network Chair Chrys Sroka and Special Olympics Illinois staff member Jennifer Marcello and were submitted through the School District 23 Superintendent.  A committee of peers chooses the award winners. The committee represents statewide education organizations and includes former award winners.

Laura Baumgardner says “I feel very honored to be a part of such a wonderful group of educators. I am so happy I was asked to join. The students and staff at PTHS have greatly benefited from our involvement. I am looking forward to what this year brings.”

“We cannot thank these teachers enough for their continued hard work and dedication to Special Olympics Illinois and Project UNIFY,” said Marcello. “They are truly an example of educators who excel!  They  have gone above and beyond their roles and have spent countless hours with their students guiding them in their planning, growing them as leaders and transforming lives in their school communities.”