Region I Stories Stories

Golfing for Gold in Decatur


Nearly 600 athletes and 18 Unified Partners competed in the 2019 Outdoor Sports Festival over September 7 and 8. This event, which serves as the state finals for those competing in golf and softball, took place at Rotary Park and Hickory Point Golf Course in Decatur, Illinois.

For Special Olympics Illinois athlete Allen Platt and his Unified Partner Mike Malcom, this also served as their Unified golf debut. The pair qualified for Outdoor Sports Festival earlier in July at the Region E competition at Chicago Heights East Golf Course.

Mike began coaching for the Grundy-county based agency Special Connections 16 years ago when his daughter, Katie (who has special needs), expressed interest in participating. Just starting out, the agency was in need of support with coaches and chaperones.

“I started coaching track and field… basketball,” Mike says. “As we grew, more people stepped up to help out so I devoted my time to golf.”

He also currently serves as an assistant coach for bocce and bowling.

Allen joined the agency six years ago and Mike became his golf skills, coach. He progressed to three-hole, then six-hole, and now Unified golf. When it came down to finding a partner, Mike was a natural fit.

“I was Allen’s caddie for three and six-hole, so we had gotten to know each other really well.”

Mike stepped into an advisory role in addition to coach. The pair were invited to play in the Region E Golf Outing in July where they qualified for Outdoor Sports Festival.

There, Katie, who also serves as a Global Messenger, was asked to give a speech to promote Unified Sports.

In Decatur, Allen and Mike also proved to be victorious bringing home the gold medal.

“I had been to Outdoor Sports Festival for a number of years from coaching skills to caddying, but being a Unified Partner was priceless.”

Mike, who has been a bowler for 49 years, has seen his share of partners and teammates but says being a Unified Partner is second to none. Previously, Mike also competed as a Unified Bocce partner as well.

“Having a partner who can lean on you and not judge or criticize you… is great.”

While he feels the competitive pressure from his partner and does not want to let them down, he finds the experience beyond rewarding.

“I will never turn down an athlete when they need advice about any sport or life situation.”

What’s next for Mike and Allen?

“We have already set our sights on defending our championship again next year!”

#PlungeWith Courage for Madeleine

Mahomet, Ill. –  On Saturday, February 24th, the brave friends and fans of Special Olympics Illinois Region I will #PlungeWith courage into the freezing waters of the Lake of the Woods in Mahomet as part of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge.  In the next couple of weeks, Polar Plungers will complete their final push to gather the minimum $100 in donations and start preparations of costume planning in excited anticipation, with some hints of anxiety, of Plunge Day. 
For one Mahomet family, this year’s Polar Plunge is a testament to their bravery, their courage to heal, and their devotion to all Special Olympics Illinois athletes, including their beloved Madeleine.  If you live in and around Mahomet but are not aware, the Mahomet Area Magic is the local Special Olympics team that Madeleine McNulty joined in the fall of 2015 to learn, train, and compete in the sports of gymnastics, bocce ball, bowling, and track & field.  Madeleine quickly proved herself to be an outstanding gymnast, having earned 4 Gold Medals and a Silver Medal at the 2016 Special Olympics Illinois State Gymnastics Competition.  She was set to compete in the State Gymnastics Qualifier in March 2017, yet sadly, angels like Madeleine, get called back to heaven, much sooner than anyone could have imagined.       
Madeleine Claire McNulty was born March 28th, 2000, and within just months of her birth, was diagnosed with complicated epilepsy which leads to speech/language deficits, social impasses, and mild cognitive delays.  Despite this terrifying condition, Madeleine was able to adjust to living in Paris and the United States with her family, make friends, attend school, and compete in sports.  Tragically, on February 25th, 2017, at the young age of 16, Madeleine passed away as a result of epilepsy.  Madeleine’s mother, Dawn McNulty, courageously stated, “Though epilepsy had her life, and ultimately took it, Madeleine never let epilepsy – or any of her challenges – have her.  She is remembered by family and friends as positive, complimentary, and fun-loving.  She had the most contagious smile and laughter.  And though Madeleine enjoyed all of her Special Olympic sports, dance was her passion and she was the #1 fan of the Mahomet-Seymour High School Varsity Competitive Dance team”. 
Thus, at this year’s Mahomet Polar Plunge, in honor of their #1 fan and marking the one-year anniversary of Madeleine’s passing, members of the Mahomet-Seymour High School Dance team, including Madeleine’s younger sister Caitlin, will be volunteering to help run the event.  While brave athletes, like Madeleine, and their families, friends, and supporters take an icy leap into the frigid water to support Special Olympics Illinois, the MSHS Dance team will serve various volunteer positions essential to the success of the Plunge.  Despite the difficult transition of a year’s passing without Madeleine, the courageousness of the Polar Plungers and volunteers at the Mahomet Polar Plunge is inspiring, not unlike the Special Olympics Athletes, they are supporting.  #PlungeWith courage or volunteer at the Lake of the Woods in Mahomet on February 24th to help Special Olympics Illinois unleash the human spirit through the transformative power of joy of sport, the joy of friendships, and S.O. limitless opportunities. 

Dad, I Can Do It


Running has not traditionally been the sport of choice for the Baxter family, so when Melani and Doug’s daughter Riley said she wanted to run the 800 meter race for Special Olympics Illinois, it came as a bit of a surprise.  What made it even harder to believe is that Riley wanted to run 800 meters in spite of the fact that she was born with foot deformities, has had three surgeries on her left leg and one on her right, and she now wears orthotic braces on both for support.  But when Doug explained to his daughter that 800 meters is a half of a mile, she responded by saying, “Dad, I can do it!” and, with that, Doug proudly boasts, “When she says, “I can do it,” I believe her.”

Doug Baxter isn’t a stranger to Special Olympics Illinois.  For over 20 years, he worked at K Bowl in Effingham and has helped host SOILL Area 9 athletes for individual bowling events most of those years.  “Bowling is our “family sport””, says Doug. “I have been bowling since my youth and even competed in college.  Riley’s brother Carson is also an accomplished bowler already at the age of 8.  Riley has been competing in Special Olympics bowling for 3 years, and regular youth bowling for 5 years.”  It only seemed natural that bowling would be the competition of choice for Riley, and her dad shares her passion for that sport, too.  “I am excited for her to compete in bowling, as I get to be her coach!” says Doug. “Coaching youth bowlers has been a privilege of mine for over 15 years.  Bowling is a social sport that has built many lasting relationships in my life.  I am happy to say that Riley has experienced that, as well.”

Social, indeed.  Relationship-building is an integral part of Special Olympics, and Riley’s contagious spirit has lent her well in making new friends.  When bowling in a sectional tournament earlier this year, she met another athlete named Sheridan.  The two girls bonded and both were gold medalists at the sectional event which advanced them to the state finals in Peoria.  “When we arrived in Peoria for the state tournament, Riley was greeted at the door by Sheridan and they picked up right where they had left off the last time (and only time, for that matter) they were together”says Doug. “Having special needs, Riley has struggled in her life to make friends.  To see the interaction between those two was truly something special!”

Riley’s bond with peers can also be found through her interaction with classmates at Dieterich Elementary, where half of her school day is spent in special education and half in general education classes.  Riley’s coach and Deiterich Elementary Special Education Teacher, Nichole Lidy, shares Riley’s and other student’s excitement for friends and sports.  “Special Olympics has become something the students really look forward to” says Coach Lidy. “As students participate in Special Olympics, their eyes light up as they participate and receive their rewards. Watching the students get their medals makes it worthwhile as a coach.”

With her magnetic and caring personality, it is no surprise that Riley aspires to become a nurse or caretaker when she grows up.  For now, though, she will continue to focus on making strikes and spares, and running 800 meters, and ALSO competing in the standing long jump, leg braces and all.  Spirit?  Absolutely.  Drive? Without a doubt.  And when asking Doug if Special Olympics Illinois has helped Riley continue to flourish and portray her talents, he responds, “Special Olympics has given her the ability to set and achieve goals.  This, in turn, has given her the confidence to know that she can overcome any obstacle and achieve all her dreams.”

Continue to achieve those dreams, Riley.  We know you can do it because you say you can.

A Will and A Way


92-year-old Champaign area resident, Lyle Cole, has unique dunk technique raising money for the Mohamet Polar Plunge….”

When Speech Pathologist and SOILL Family Ambassador, Kathleen Williams, wore her Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge hoodie on the job, she didn’t know that she had an admirer.  Then one day when 92-year-old Lyle Cole asked Kathleen how he could get a shirt like hers, the challenge was on.

Kathleen explained to Lyle that he would have to raise $100 for Special Olympics Illinois, AND that he would need to plunge into frigid water to earn his own hoodie.  Normally either one of those criteria may cause someone to take a pass, especially if you are a 92-year-old resident of a skilled nursing home.  After all, it is only a hoodie, right?  Wrong. It is a challenge that Lyle now takes on each year with a passion.

Emerson Hjort, Kathleen’s daughter whom is a Special Olympics Illinois athlete AND Global Messenger, has accompanied Kathleen to Lyle’s home and has met Lyle several times.  It is unknown if it is Emerson whom provided the motivation for Lyle to become a Polar Plunger, but he takes the challenge seriously.

Lyle starts in December to get to his first objective, which is to raise $100, and has done it for two years now.  But as any plunger knows, earning the money is often the easier part of meeting the two-part objective.  Now on to the plunge in frigid water to complete the task.

Some plungers dive right in.  Others go waist-deep.  Others get to their knees while splashing their hands in the water.  As for Lyle?  He plunges right down deep to the elbow.  It works!  The water is cold in his plunge bucket, but the warmth in Lyle’s heart may actually cause that water to steam someday.

Thanks, Lyle.  You’ve proven to us all that when there is a will, there definitely IS a way.

Sign up to take the plunge, just click the button below to get started!

Coca-Cola Plunges for a Cause


The Coca-Cola Company is well known for its Polar Bears tumbling in the snow under the “Northern Lights” and enticing consumers to Taste the Feeling™ of a cold, refreshing Coke.  For so many, Coca-Cola is also recognized for its philanthropic efforts, including providing yearly donations of Dasani® waters for Special Olympics Illinois events, establishing scholarship programs for “exceptional peoples’ thirst for knowledge”, and enacting disaster relief support in communion with the Red Cross. But few know the grass roots involvement and community support that the employees of Coca-Cola provide to the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois, especially the employees of the Coca-Cola Distribution Center of Charleston, IL.

For the past five years, Tracie Montz, Business Supervisor of the Charleston/Champaign Coca-Cola Distribution Company, has been leading the Coca-Cola Polar Plunge team on their run into the “cold, refreshing” waters of Lake Sara in Effingham.  The Coca-Cola Plunge team participated in last year’s Corporate Team Challenge at the LETR Polar Plunge and raised over $1500 for Special Olympics Illinois.  In total, Tracie and her team have raised a little over $4,300 in plunge donations during their plunging years.

When asked what is Tracie’s favorite part about taking the LETR Polar Plunge year after year, she exclaimed “I love the team spirit and atmosphere.  The fact that we are helping Special Olympics, is icing on the cake”.

Through polar plunge contributions, in-kind donations of needs, volunteer support, and community presence at events, the Coca-Cola Distribution team of Charleston, IL has exemplified just how much their corporate team values and strengthens the communities they serve.  Next time you Share a Coke™ with a friend, think of Tracie and the Coca-Cola Plunge Bears as they prepare to take the 2017 Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge at Lake Sara in Effingham on Saturday, March 4th