Region Stories Stories

Be Bold, Get Cold, and Be Kind


 

The cold weather did not stop Special Olympics Illinois athlete Kaylee McLaughlin from taking the Plunge At Home. Kaylee took the Polar Plunge from home on Sunday, February 21, where she took an icy dip into a pool.

Like many, this was her first time plunging at home. Historically, she has plunged into Wick’s Lake in Rock Island with family, friends, and supporters by her side.  She has also participated in the WIU Plunge in Macomb and the Lake Storey Plunge in Galesburg. Kaylee’s first plunge was in 2017, but she has been supporting her Father’s plunge efforts for over a decade. 

There was no shortage of creativity when it comes to finding ways to encourage family, friends, and the public to champion her Plunge At Home endeavor. From posting countdown photos and videos on her personal Facebook page to selling bracelets and homemade enchiladas to the local Warren County community.

Kaylee is consistently one of the top Polar Plunge fundraisers. This year, Kaylee surpassed her fundraising goal by raising over $5,600. Polar Plunge isn’t the only event Kaylee champions. She supports the Ducky Derby, local Region F fundraisers, and so much more!

Despite the pandemic, in 2020, Kaylee raised over $13,000 for the organization.

When asked where her motivation comes from, Kaylee said, “I love Special Olympics. More than almost anything!”

“I love all the opportunities Special Olympics Illinois offers the athletes, especially the fundraising opportunities that allow me to fundraise my heart out so the program can continue to grow.”

To learn more about the Polar Plunge and how to get involved, please visit plungeillinois.com


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.      


Southern Ducky Derby Dash


 

Adopt a duck for $5 then see who wins the grand prize on Sunday, October 4.


Student Athlete Coordinates Inclusive Practices with Her Team


 

Meet Klaire Steffens, a sophomore student athlete at the University of Chicago.

She is majoring in Public Policy and minoring in Education and Society. Apart from being a member of the basketball team, she is on the executive board of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA), co-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, and a member of the Trott Business Program.

Part of her role as WAA Promotions Coordinator is to organize inclusive practices with Chicago’s Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) teams. Her teammate and co-president of the WAA brought inclusive practices to UChicago because of the belief that is shared with them all that, “regardless of a so-called ‘disability,’ these athletes deserve to play and practice on a stage as large as all of the hard work which they have put into their sport,” per Miranda Burt (Class of 2020).

The inclusive practices bring in local Special Olympics Illinois teams to practice alongside varsity athletes on campus. This past year they had soccer, flag football, and basketball practices.

In addition to the inclusive practices, WAA hosts an annual fundraising event, Slam Dunk, during the Women’s and Men’s basketball games to raise money for these teams. They raise funds through raffle ticket sales leading up to and during the games. Klaire is so moved when she is playing on the court and looks up to the stands to see some of the Special Olympics athletes that have practiced with the team. They come to Slam Dunk to support their teams as well as play in a basketball game with their athletes during halftime.

Beyond the inclusive practices, WAA usually hosts a Special Olympics Field Day in the spring. This is an incredibly fun day where all of these Special Olympics Illinois teams come together with the University of Chicago male and female athletes to play soccer, basketball, flag football, track, and tennis.

As a student-athlete, Klaire does undergo the typical stress of tests, assignments, and managing a 20+ hour weekly commitment to basketball. However, her involvement with Special Olympics always brings her and other athletes joy.

The SOILL athletes always arrive on campus with contagious smiles beaming across their faces. Whenever the team sets foot on the field or court, the Special Olympics Illinois athletes manage to keep those smiles while also turning their competitive juices on. During the practices Klaire forgets about whatever assignments she may have because she is all consumed in the fun and competitive atmosphere. Perhaps the most meaningful take away that she has had is the relationships that she has built by practicing with the same teams consistently throughout the year in a variety of sports. Some of her other fellow student athletes and Klaire are on a first-name basis with many of the SOILL athletes. Whenever they call out Klaire and her teammates names or come give them high fives, their hearts warm.

Many UChicago athletes have told Klaire that SOILL athletes make their day. They are given the privilege to deliver checks from the Slam Dunk money to some of the teams that practice with them. Seeing how hard the SOILL athletes work, their own practice facilities, and how meaningful the funds are is eye opening. They are grateful that they are able to help provide the SOILL athletes the gear that they deserve and experience practices with them.

The Special Olympic athletes’ passion for their sport radiates throughout the inclusive practices. Their passion reminds the UChicago team of the pure love and joy that comes from one’s sport.


Lives Transformed: Special Olympics Illinois and Family, Changed Together and Forever


 

“Once you go once, there is no escaping it. You can’t help but get hooked” says Meggan Rogers talking about her experience with the Special Olympics Illinois. To her and her mother Linda Hagemann, the Special Olympics community is like a second family to them.

Meggan’s mother, Linda, is a police liaison at the Kane County State’s Attorney Office. She has worked at that office for more than 40 years. With her position, she has gained very close friendships with the officers and police departments in the area. One day, a good friend, Police Chief of East Dundee PD and State Director for Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run, Joe Pena asked her to attend a weekend at this event called the “Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games”. She was hesitant, as she had three young daughters, Meggan, Nicole, and Sara to take care of. But, she took the opportunity, and of course, her and extremely supportive husband with everything Special Olympics Illinois, Scott, headed to Bloomington/Normal. “Just one weekend”, Linda quoted. “Well as you know, just one time turns into a lifetime”. This “one time” was in 1998, 22 years ago.

Now for Meggan, she was only at the age of four when she attended this first summer games event. From this moment, by the time she was eight, she was wanting to be a special education teacher. She, along with her sisters, became so attached to the Special Olympics, that they gave up going on a trip to Disney World, as the dates of the Summer Games would overlap their time at Disney. Meggan quoted her saying when she was younger: “No mom, we’re not going to Disney because our friends will miss us, they will be looking for us”, their friends being the Special Olympics Illinois athletes that they had become so close to.

With Meggan’s love and constant involvement with the Special Olympics community, and of course wanting to be a Special Education teacher since she was eight years old, she went on to be a Special Education teacher at Mill Creek Elementary School in Geneva. She personally works with five intellectually disabled children, or as she calls them, “kiddos”, in a self-contained room, mainly where the kids spend 70-80% of the school day. What this is, is a room, just like a classroom, where these kiddos are taught more life-based information and instruction. Now for the other 20-30% of the school day, the students spend their time with other children in the school, whether that be at recess, lunch, or other school gatherings. “I look at it now (being involved with the Special Olympics) as a teacher, I wish more parents and more families would teach that acceptance and provide those opportunities to kids, just to make the world a better place”.

For Linda, she could not be more proud of her daughter Meggan and the direction she has gone with helping intellectually disabled children. She herself stays involved with Special Olympics Illinois to this day:

“Those were some amazing family times. Watching the girls grow up with the love they have for the athletes, the excitement, looking for certain athletes they had bonded with, had started a relationship with. As parents, Scott and I were so proud of them, and I think they grew up accepting everybody…they grew up around these athletes that they were just like them. The athletes were just like them”.

She, along with her family, wants people to understand that someone who is intellectually disabled is no different than us. They can do the same, if not more, than many of us! They are able to touch our hearts and change the lives of many, just as they did for Linda and Meggan.