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Comcast Transforming Lives


From PyeongChang to Seattle with Comcast

Twenty-eighteen is an exciting year for elite athletes!  We enjoyed the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in February and the PeyongChang 2018 Paralympics in March, and this summer, it will be time for our Special Olympics athletes to shine at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, Washington!

To celebrate the courage and tenacity of ALL athletes, and the excitement of elite competition, Comcast held a celebration at their STUDIO Xfinity facility in Chicago during the Olympic Winter Games.  Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, the official U.S. broadcast partner of the Olympics through 2032.

While watching ski and snowboard competition on giant screens in high definition, guests enjoyed a cross-cultural buffet of Korean and American delicacies.  Three incredible athletes were in attendance: Emily Brydon, a retired Olympic downhill skier from Canada, Tucker Dupree, a Paralympics swimming champion from the United States, and our very own, Ashley Jones, part of the 2018 Team Illinois gymnastics team.  Debra Marton, Senior Manager of Community Investment at Comcast who helped bring everyone together offered, “What a beautiful group of people that came out to celebrate the Olympics with us!  Ashley Jones is a sweetheart and I can see why she was chosen as one of the Team Illinois Athletes.” 

After a warm welcome from Matt Summy, Vice President of External & Government Affairs at Comcast, the audience listened intently to highlights for Special Olympics Illinois in 2018, and then learned about Ashley’s story through a short film.   After a round of applause and high-fives for Ashley and Jones family, Matt announced that Comcast would donate $5,000 to Special Olympics Illinois to underwrite the costs of ceremonial uniforms for Team Illinois.

Held just once every four years, the USA Games offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our athletes to travel the country and compete at the highest levels in their sport as part of the Illinois delegation.  In Seattle, Team Illinois will also enjoy the pageantry of opening and closing ceremonies, meet professional athletes from their favorite sports, and experience a very special Fourth of July celebration at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium.   Team Illinois for 2018 includes fifty-two athletes, competing in eight sports: athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, artistic gymnastics, swimming, powerlifting and tennis.

We have high expectations for these fierce competitors, and know they will represent Illinois proudly.  Now, thanks to our friends at Comcast, they will look every bit like the champions they are!

If your organization is interested in learning more about USA Games and Team Illinois, and helping our athletes get to Seattle, contact Michelle Weiner, Director of Strategic Development at 312-972-5616 or

World Games Athlete Gearing Up for Unified Relay Across America


Jacob McManus of Barrington began horseback riding at age 5. Now, 13 years later, Jacob will represent Illinois on Special Olympics USA and compete in equestrian at the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015.

Jacob McManus attended Special Olympics USA Training Camp in October to meet his fellow World Games teammates.

At Special Olympics USA Training Camp, Jacob McManus met his fellow World Games teammates and demonstrated his riding skills.

In addition to gearing up for the 2015 World Games, Jacob and his family will also be running in the Special Olympics Unified Relay Across America presented by Bank of America when it passes through Chicago in June. The McManus Family will be a part of the Captive Resources Team – a team that has currently raised more than $17,000.

“Several of the company’s employees have children who participate in various Special Olympics Illinois events,” Stacie explains. “We are honored to have the support of Captive Resources as we raise awareness about the important issues we face in the disability community and celebrate the abilities of our athletes!”

The Unified Relay gives anyone in the country a chance to carry the Flame of Hope that will be lit in Athens, Greece, and help deliver it to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics World Summer Games. Over the course of 46 days, in a hand-to-hand exchange, thousands of participants will run, walk or bike a segment of the relay in this team and individual fundraising event as it passes through all 50 states via 3 routes. The relay will culminate at the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles on July 25.

The Unified Relay travels through Illinois via two routes. The Central Route will pass through Southern Illinois June 8 and 9 and the Northern Route will come through Chicago June 12 through 14. All Unified Relay participants must register and fundraise by May 25. For more information and to register, please visit

Jacob McManus displays his medal at the 2014 SOILL Fall Games

Jacob McManus displays his medal at the 2014 SOILL Fall Games

After entering into a therapeutic riding program, fell in love with horses. Jacob, who has autism and was non-verbal at the time, used horses to aid in everything from his social and academic skills to creating a vocational path for him. At the age of 9, he began competing in Special Olympics and has competed annually ever since. His parents, Stacie and Michael, feel horseback riding has been an integral part of his success.

“He used to do spelling words and addition and subtraction on the back of a horse when he was younger,” explains Stacie McManus.

Jacob currently trains at Bravehearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center in Harvard. He has ridden both English and Western seats in a variety of classes to further challenge his riding skills. He says his favorite part of competing has been winning, but his parents are grateful for the bonds he has developed with the horses, coaches and volunteers.

“My favorite memory of his Special Olympics competitions was when he competed in English Dressage one year,” remembers Stacie. “When he took his final salute at the end he turned to the crowd and said, ‘You’ve been a great audience. Thanks for coming and good night’ and rode out of the arena.”

Nearly 500 athletes and coaches were selected to the Special Olympics USA delegation, including 15 athletes from Illinois and 8 coaches. This group will join more than 7,000 athletes from 177 nations who will compete in 25 Olympic-type sports July 25-Aug. 2 in Los Angeles, Calif.

If you’d like to support the Captive Resources Team or another Illinois Unified Relay team, please click here.

By Alexandra McMillin, Manager of Communications

Finally Seeing Double


Editor’s Note — Chris Kirsch of Shorewood, mother of athlete Rikki, was a finalist in the 2014 Share Your Story contest. This is her story:

Holly and Rikki Kirsch

Holly and Rikki Kirsch

For years Rikki followed her twin sister, Holli. If Holli tried it, Rikki tried it. From dance to soccer to horseback riding and track… even yearbook classes in high school. Rikki was always trying to keep up with her twin sister.

As Holli went off to college three years ago, Rikki decided to try new things of her own. Rikki joined the Special Connections swim team and changed her path as a follower. Swimming made Rikki shine on her own! Last year, Rikki was selected to represent Illinois at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games as an aquatics athlete. As the family followed Rikki to New Jersey, Holli remained Rikki’s biggest cheerleader.

Rikki scuba dives with her buddy Ms. V

Rikki scuba dives with her buddy Ms. V

With the confidence Rikki gained from the incredible Special Olympics experience, Rikki decide to try scuba diving. On Sept. 21, 2014, Rikki completed her training and became a certified scuba diver. Now Holli wants to follow Rikki into the water and earn her certification in scuba diving. Holli and Rikki can now share their time together, side by side!

Through her participation in Special Olympics Illinois Rikki is now the confident young lady that her sister Holli is. Rikki now aspires to become a Global Messenger and really challenge herself the way her sister does.

Schaumburg Athlete Represents Region on Special Olympics Leadership Committee


By Matthew Williams, SOILL Athlete

LA Airplane

Matthew Williams and his coach David Luzwick on flight to Los Angeles

My name is Matthew Williams, I am 14 years old and I am Global Messenger from Schaumburg. I was selected to serve as a representative for the Great Lakes Region to the North America Athlete Leadership Steering committee. This committee met in Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 15–17 as part of the Special Olympics U.S. Business Meeting. This national meeting is where the CEOs from all the U.S. programs convened for organizational business and development of the strategic plan.

Before arriving in L.A. numerous conference calls took place to prepare our group of 20 athletes from around the country to come up with ideas and priorities for Special Olympics North America. Our goal was to “be more prepared then the CEOs.”

LA DinnerOn arrival day, we got busy right away with a dinner and a meet and greet. This was the first time all athletes met face to face. On Monday, the athletes met while the CEOs and Board Chairs had a golf outing. The athletes discussed each part of strategic plan in depth for 8 long hours. Ideas were exchanged about sports, youth activation, movement leadership and athlete leadership. Following our meeting, Janet Froetscher, CEO of Special Olympics, joined us for pizza and casual conversation. After dinner, Ms. Froetscher gave a welcoming speech to all the attendees.

Tuesday we broke up into smaller groups that included CEOs and Board Chairs to discuss the plan. Group discussions included Foundational Sports Programming, Unified Sports and Young Athletes, Health Programming, Public Relations, Connecting our Movement, and Maximize Games External Impact, Inclusive Health, and Capacity Building. This is where our voices were heard and acknowledged to help better Special Olympics around the world for years to come.

It was an amazing feeling to know that MY voice has made a difference.  I appreciated this opportunity to be the voice of the athletes I represented.

First Ever TRAIN Event Held in Illinois


What is TRAIN?

StudyingSpecial Olympics Illinois (SOILL) held its first ever TRAIN (Testing Recreational Activities and Improving Nutrition) event on Tuesday, July 16, at Stevenson Elementary School in Elk Grove Village. TRAIN is a new program being launched by Special Olympics International (SOI) with the support of Finish Line. The TRAIN program is designed to be a fun way for athletes to test their physical skills, discover new sports to play and learn about exercise and nutrition.

SOILL selected Stevenson Elementary School in District 54 as the first school to pilot this event because of its long history of Special Olympics involvement and its willingness to try out new programs.

Benefits of TRAIN

District 54 Special Olympics Coordinator Dave Luzwick has been involved in Special Olympics for more than six years. Currently all 27 Coach Daveschools from District 54 participate in Special Olympics. Luzwick feels the TRAIN program is a great addition. “I’m lucky to have the best job,” said Luzwick and he sees the benefits in the TRAIN program. “There is not enough focus on nutrition so it is good to teach this and it is a good tool for assessing kids for sports.”

“TRAIN is a great addition to our school’s curriculum and coaches and parents will appreciate the sport suggestions. It gives both the lower- and higher-functioning athletes a program they can participate in during the summer.”

Special Education teacher Kelly O’Reilly also sees the benefits. “It’s a great program and it could be a useful tool to help measure progress and regression in skills. It could be useful during the school year in conjunction with P.E.”

The TRAIN event allowed 32 Young Athletes to participate and they have already received valuable information from the SNAPPER computer program which compiles results from the each of the 13 stations. The athletes also take home a nutritional placemat and home training kit to help them continue learning and to encourage them to practice good nutrition.

Finish Line Partnership

Medicine Ball and Laughing AthleteSpecial Olympics Illinois first heard about the TRAIN program at the 2012 SOI National Conference in Indianapolis and was selected as one of the pilot programs. Finish Line is helping SOI expand the program thanks to a $35,000 grant for this year and a $5,000 grant for next year.

Future of TRAIN

Special Olympics Illinois plans to continue holding TRAIN events with a few events in the planning stages for 2013 in Chicago. The hope is to eventually grow the TRAIN program throughout the state in future years.

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