Region Stories 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.      

A Mom’s Story of Her Son – Matthew Schuler


My son Matthew “Matt” Schuler was first introduced to Special Olympics in High School.  Hinsdale South had a basketball team and this was the first time Matt ever competed with athletes who shared his same skill level.

The first time I saw Matt compete, I was overcome with emotion.  He looked comfortable, confident and proud to be on that court.   It is a very humbling experience. To this day, I am still touched watching him, as well as the other athletes competing.

That was the start of a new beginning for Matt and for the past 16 years he has participated in several Special Olympic sports; soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, floor hockey and power lifting. He has gone to State in a few of these sports and has won gold, silver and bronze medals, and has made many friends along the way.

But he found his true calling with Powerlifting.  He was chosen to compete in the USA Open Nationals in May 2019 along with Brandon Moody who has been with Matt in Powerlifting for a few years now so it was fitting they attend the competition together, both winning gold medals. I asked Matt how he felt about being chosen to participate, and he said excited and proud.  

Even though Matt has a huge support system at home, his belief in himself is due in large part to Special Olympics.  I believe Special Olympics gives the gift of life to individuals with disabilities. 

Special Olympics has instilled a level of confidence in these Matt that goes far beyond winning a gold medal.  This confidence empowers individuals to be the best that they can be.  They feel important; they are equals in society and believe anything is possible.

He was chosen as a Global Messenger for Special Olympics in October 2019.  This was another highlight for Matt.  He was so thrilled to attend the training class in Springfield along with another of his friends he met through Special Olympics.  He was beaming.  He couldn’t wait to show us his briefcase and his very own business cards.  At that moment, I thought to myself this journey he has been on will continue throughout every aspect of his life. 

While volunteering at “Cop on a Rooftop,” he was approached by one of the Plainfield Police officers and asked if he’d be interested in doing volunteer work for Special Olympics and the Police Department.   That led to Matt becoming an Ambassador for the Plainfield Police Department to promote Special Olympics.  This was a perfect opportunity for Matt to reach out to the community regarding individuals with disabilities.   I attend the meetings with Matt and they go through various fundraising events they are planning.  They ask him his opinion regarding the events, merchandise they may be selling, etc.  This alone makes him feel like he is truly part of a team; they value his opinion.

 He has volunteered at several of their events.  One of the events he participated in was the Armored Truck Pull to raise money for Special Olympics.  He was one of a team of five. It was also his first speaking engagement where he introduced himself to the crowd as the Ambassador for the Plainfield Police Department and spoke about Special Olympics.

If anyone ever has a chance to attend a Special Olympics event, I know it will change their lives forever.  I don’t think you can truly explain the feeling you get inside watching these individuals pouring their hearts outs, giving their all. They truly live up to the motto for Special Olympics. 

Matt is also serving his community during a very difficult time; the COVID-19 Pandemic.  He works at Mariano’s and is considered an “essential employee.”  He is very dedicated and takes his job to heart.  He is always trying to help people as best he can.

We couldn’t be more proud of Matt.  There aren’t enough words to express our gratitude to Special Olympics and the wonderful coaches he has had along the way that have attributed to Matt’s growth and great life experiences that have made him the amazing young man he is today.

Preston’s Birthday Party


By: Megan J.M. Clodi

“Are you going to throw me a party?” is the exact question asked several times a week by Mt. Vernon Township High School (MVTHS) student-athlete, Preston Reich. He would ask his teacher this question to make sure she didn’t forget he was getting ready to embark on a new chapter of his life.

Preston has always attended MVTHS and participated in Special Olympics bowling, athletics (track and field), Unified Bass Fishing, and after doing basketball skills for a number of years, he played on the basketball team. When Preston completed his fourth year of high school, he shifted to another program provided by MVTHS called Readying Adults to Maximize Success, or the R.A.M.S. Program. It is designed to teach students how to live independently with a strong focus on vocational skills. While he has been part of the program, Preston has honed his vocational skills while working at locations on and off campus. Mrs. LeeAnn Schuette was his teacher and developed relationships with several local businesses for Preston and his classmates to generalize their skills into community settings. The DoubleTree by Hilton, Mt. Vernon Dream Homes, and others are some locations where Preston has worked on fine-tuning his skills. While giving a speech to the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Board about the R.A.M.S. Program, Preston revealed that his favorite part of working at the DoubleTree by Hilton was seeing General Manager, Mike Carbonaro every day … Mr. Carbonaro was in the audience for that speech!

This school year was bittersweet for Preston. This was his last year to attend MVTHS and his last year in the R.A.M.S. Program because he was turning 22 years old. When students receiving transitional programming turn 22 years old, they “age out” or exit the program. This can be daunting for some students or some families. Preston was ready! He works several days each week at Kingdom Seed Ministries, which is a non-profit organization that sells lunches three days a week to raise money for their various community ministries. All through the year, Preston knew what was coming around the corner in April 2020. He knew his time at MVTHS was coming to an end. Truthfully, he was the ONLY student at MVTHS who knew he would not be entering the hallowed halls for the rest of the school year. The abrupt end of in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic took everyone by surprise. The one aspect that Preston was not prepared for was how his 22nd birthday party would be impacted. Would he still have a party?

When students exit the R.A.M.S. Program midyear due to aging out, Mrs. Schuette really pulls out all the stops to make the exiting student feel how special they are and know how much they will be missed.  A HUGE 22nd birthday bash is held in the student’s honor. Preston participated in his classmate party last year. It was something he was looking forward to this entire year. March saw an Executive Order from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker for all Illinois residents to stay at home for at least 30 days. This meant Preston’s party, to be held on his birthday, April 17, could not be held, at least in the way it was originally intended.

Thankfully, Preston’s teacher is awfully incredible! She would never let a pandemic get in the way of Preston’s highly anticipated party. She just had to make sure he knew that Ram Nation would always love Preston and that he would always be part of the Ram Family!  Mrs. Schuette began contacting Preston’s family, teachers, staff members, and the whole community about Preston’s upcoming birthday and the brand-new plan to throw him a 22nd birthday PARADE! At 12:30 pm on Friday, April 17, about 50 vehicles met in a nearby vacant parking lot and at 12:45 pm police sirens were sounded as the vehicles formed a line and began driving toward Preston’s home. This timing was important because it was the time of day Preston was born 22 years before. Living a few blocks from a major road, Preston thought the sirens were for a funeral procession. As the siren sound became louder and louder, he and his family exited their home and were greeted with a long procession of cars, decorated with streamers and balloons, honking while passengers were cheering and holding signs, and many carefully dropped gifts and cards for Preston.

Speaking of cards, Preston received so many cards in the days surrounding his birthday!  He hardly ever receives mail, let alone so many cards! He even received a card from the state of Florida with Disney stickers. One letter came from Jackson Creel, a senior at MVTHS, who happens to share a birthday with Preston. He wrote that “all the cool people are born on April 17.” Jackson went on to write how much he missed seeing Preston in the hallways at school and telling him hello. Although they have never had classes together or hung out together after school, Jackson knows that birthdays are special, especially “their” birthday. Preston hung that special letter on his bedroom mirror. Guess who was hanging out the window of his mom’s SUV during Preston’s birthday parade … that’s right, Jackson!

Preston and his family were amazed at how the school and community showered him with love and birthday wishes.  He recorded a thank you video that his mom posted on Facebook. Preston may not have received a celebration like he was expecting, but Preston’s parade was the perfect party proxy!

Justin Dunning to Receive 2020 Illinois Outstanding Young Persons Award


Justin Dunning of Special Olympics Illinois- Region J has been selected as one of ten honorees for the Illinois Jaycees Outstanding Young Persons awards program.

The Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) program annually recognizes young people throughout Illinois who excel in their chosen fields, endeavors, and show a great commitment to their respective communities.

“This award is particularly special to me; nevertheless it speaks volumes about the people around me. I pride myself in finding great people to surround me, ones that will always be willing to step in and lend a hand,” said Justin.

Like Justin, the Jaycees are dedicated to making an impact in communities. As an award honoree, Justin will join an elite group of men and women. The Illinois TOYP program started over 50 years ago and has continued to recognize perspicuous men and women across Illinois.

“In very early conversations with Justin, it was clear he had a passion and desire for serving individuals with special needs. His love for sport and dedication to that sport were early indicators he would be very successful in our organization,” said Dave Breen, President, and CEO, Special Olympics Illinois. “Justin has shown a true talent for bringing teams together to better serve the Special Olympics athletes in Region J and the State of Illinois.”

Justin is being recognized in the category of Humanitarian and/or voluntary leadership. His work at Special Olympics Illinois has made him an excellent nominee for the Illinois Outstanding Young Persons Award.

Justin has been a part of the Special Olympics Illinois family for seven years. His devotion and passion during those seven years have helped spread the mission of the organization not only to his local community but also statewide. 

 â€śThis award is just a combination of all our efforts leading to an impact in the community. I am truly blessed and honored,” said Justin.

More information can be found at

Unified Sports with the Four Legged Kind


Horses help win the minds, hearts, gold, silver and bronze medals with Special Olympics Illinois Athletes

Did you know that with all of the sports that Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) offers, most are played entirely with other SOILL athletes? However, there is one that is played Unified with another kind of athlete….a horse.

Along with being competitive, humans can be compassionate, calm, athletic, understanding, comforting, friendly and therapeutic to each other. A horse can have the same effect on humans as well.

There is a therapeutic equine facility in Lemont, Illinois working with Special Olympics Illinois athletes and horses preparing them for competition, while helping to build the self-assurance of these riders. As Executive Director and Head Coach, Marlene Karman of Holistic Riding Equestrian Therapy (HRET) states, “The sense of pride, along with enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem derived from our participants knowing that their horses need them for care and exercise, is unlike anything I have ever experienced in any other industry. The bonding among riders, volunteers and horses is the heart of our HRET family.”

As you would imagine, for a facility like this to be extra special, you need exceptional characters as the basis for what you do. While there are many at HRET, one specifically comes to mind, Officer Baldy. No, he was not the local patrolman, but a founding HRET horse that provided so many people with the opportunity to learn how to ride.

Baldy was the original horse at HRET. He joined the ponies, Tony and Tina in 2015, when the Chicago Police Department Mounted Patrol retired him after he worked his final assignment – patrolling the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup celebration.

Baldy was proudly named in honor of Chicago Police Officer Patrolman Leonard F. Baldy, who became the first “Flying Officer”providing Chicagoans with live traffic reports from a helicopter throughout the 1950’s. Baldy’s training and experience made him the ideal therapy horse with his calm, patient demeanor and large fluid movements. He was never fazed by any loud sounds, however this gentle giant, being a true city boy, was not a fan of pigs or cows! Many of HRET’s riders had their first ride on him where they felt comfortable and safe. Many of those riders were Special Olympics Illinois athletes, who rode Baldy in many events, including HRET’s first competition at the 2017 Fall Games at the Braveheart Therapeutic Riding Center in Poplar Grove, IL, near Rockford.

Karman recalls the courage that their first team had when overcoming the jitters at the ’17 games. “It is an amazing accomplishment for first-time athletes to overcome competition nerves in addition to the pressure of riding in a new facility filled with an audience and still perform at gold and silver medal standards. I am so proud of our entire team and their families!”

While many coaches, family members and HRET volunteers had a lot to do with calming the nerves of their athletes, there was one competitor and teammate whose training and spirit helped prepare them all for this.  It was Baldy, who helped bring home eight gold medals that weekend.


HRET’s home is  at Kopping Farms, a 150-year-old historic landmark and working farm that is located next to the Palos Forest Preserve in Lemont, Illinois.

The HRET team is passionately committed to empowering the  lives of individuals with varied physical, emotional, cognitive and social abilities through the spirit of the horse. 

HRET offers a variety of skill appropriate classes meeting the needs of preschoolers on our ponies to independent riders on our program safe horses.

Classes are taught by Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors.

DON’T MISS – 3rd annual Country Western Casino fundraiser, September 19th, 2020 launching HRET’s Capital Campaign for the construction of a new ADA compliant temperature controlled year-round arena/barn in 2021.

Please visit their website at to enjoy the testimonials and support their endeavor.