USA Games Stories

Special Olympics Athlete From ’68 Games Is Co-Grand Marshal For 2018 USA Games


 

BY: JILL HAMMERGREN

At today’s Opening Ceremony, Special Olympics athlete Tim Corrigan from Chicago served as the Co-Grand Marshal. The 75-year-old honoree’s appearance at the Opening Ceremony came 50 years after he was one of the first athletes to join Special Olympics in 1968.

Corrigan was participating in square dancing events in Gage Park in Chicago when he was approached to get involved with the newly formed organization. He began competing in track and field events like softball throw, 50-yard dash as well as bowling, golf and bocce.

“It was exciting and fun. It was something to do. I made a lot of friends,” said Corrigan.

When asked about whether he was surprised to see the success of Special Olympics, he said, “No, I knew it would be great!” Corrigan was emotional when he was preparing for his role as Co-Grand Marshal saying, “I am just so happy to be here.”

Corrigan traveled to Seattle with his younger sisters Mary Ellen Baker and Suzy Longawa. They say he maintains a busier social life than they have. Longawa said, “Special Olympics has been a wonderful opportunity for Tim, he’s traveled the world and made so many friends. He just loves it and so do we.”

At the 25th Anniversary celebration for Special Olympics, Corrigan lit the cauldron. He will be in Chicago when Special Olympics celebrates the 50th Anniversary later this month.


Just Keep Swimming – One Athlete’s Journey to Gold


 

Special Olympics gold medalist Amanda Bratton on family, motivation, and winning it all

By: Lauren Hankins & Ellie Dennis

SEATTLE  — Amanda Bratton has always loved the feeling of water.

As a child, one of Amanda’s favorite activities was to submerge herself underwater to see how deep she could swim. The deeper she got, the more comfortable she felt. On the surface, her parents and the lifeguards on duty would often worry as she held herself underwater. However, she knew she was destined for a life in the water from the moment she experienced it.

Amanda was born with Complex Partial Seizure Disorder, also known as epilepsy. Although her epilepsy has been controlled through medication, the notion that Amanda may at any time experience a seizure while performing in the sport she fell in love with has always been in the back of her parents’ minds.

Despite some of her worries, Cristy Bratton, Amanda’s mother, believes that the joy Amanda receives in swimming far outweighs the negative possibilities. And her love for the sport as well as her incredible success has only grown since her beginnings in competitive swimming at 11 years old.

Amanda & her medals ©Wes Bratton

Over the past 14 years, Amanda has achieved top marks in various high school and collegiate competitions. Her proudest accomplishments, though, came when she won the gold in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard freestyle at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.

To reach the pinnacle of success and earn a gold medal required an immense amount of work and dedication. Her ability to walk into a race without fear or nervousness allowed Amanda to compete with tenacity and focus. Amanda’s dedication to swimming is unparalleled – she lives for it and winning events has long brought her feelings of happiness and accomplishment.

While achieving success in high school excited Amanda, winning at the Special Olympics Games provided an experience like no other. “Winning a [gold medal]… It feels like success,” Amanda said, “like I’ve accomplished something.”

Throughout the years, Cristy watched as her daughter’s hard work and perseverance paid off. When Amanda won the gold medal, Cristy said that “she was beaming. She wore her medals for days: at school and work.”

A perfect example of Amanda’s ambitious character and strong will came in her first year of competitive swimming. Around Valentine’s Day, Amanda broke her collarbone and was told she would most likely need to sit out of the remaining competition. Despite the intense pain radiating from her shoulder, Amanda still opted to compete later that year —  she has never been one to back down.

Her dedication to her sport is unwavering. For nearly a decade and a half, Amanda has kept a steady practice and cardio routine to stay both competitive and in shape. Growing up, Amanda was inspired by her dad, Wes Bratton, who competed in both high school and college swimming. Wes is still an avid swimmer and currently competes at the Masters level, a league that combines a wide age-range of swimmers into one competition. When Amanda visits home in Seattle, her dad also helps her plan and practice, creating a foundation for the success she still utilizes.

While the inspiration instilled in her through her parents has directed her onto the path towards success, another familial connection has motivated her to compete harder and perform her best. Amanda’s younger sister, Lisa Bratton, currently holds an athletic scholarship for swimming at Texas A&M. Amanda and her sister have always competed against each other, inspiring and motivating each other to always give it they’re all.

Amanda finishes her race ©Wes Bratton

Growing up with the friendly competition against her sister prepared Amanda for the atmosphere of  Special Olympics. Amanda describes the environment as “relaxed,” and “friendly”. Although she becomes instantly focused and determined once in the pool, she has a knack for remaining calm and collected – mirroring the environment at Special Olympics.

Her mother describes Special Olympics as an amazing place, an “area where anyone can compete and have fun in.” On top of this welcoming atmosphere, at the end of the two-day event, competitors are invited to a dance in celebration for their accomplishments.

The competitions are run by volunteers who hope to provide athletes a rewarding and competitive experience. Nonetheless, all participants are accomplished at Special Olympics, both for their incredible feats in their sport as well as their happiness to share the joy of competition.

In her quest to always compete, and to always give every competition her all, Amanda’s spirit mirrors that of Special Olympics and all of the competitors that participate in it. In spite of barriers, broken bones, and fierce familial competition, Amanda’s passion to compete for parallels that of the Special Olympics athlete oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

 

 

 

 

 


Meet Katie Millar: Powerlifting Champion and Leader


 

Illinois native stands out in a male-dominated sport

APRIL 3, 2018

BY: Sudie Canada, Gabriella Robison- Sudie and Gabbi are Public Relations students at Pepperdine University.

CHICAGO — Katie Millar is an inspirational woman. Her continued success in powerlifting, a traditionally male-dominated sport, is a testament to her determination and confidence.

“When she competes locally, there are maybe 12 girls total out of 150 guys,” says Judy Kasmer-Millar, Katie’s mother. But this ratio does not intimidate Katie in the slightest. Even as a beginner, she quickly started adding weight to surpass personal bests. However, Katie’s success comes as no surprise given her athletic prowess. She has been chosen to participate in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle this summer.

Katie Millar at the 2017 Northeastern Illinois District Competition. Photo Credit: Judy Kasmer-Millar.

Katie has been involved in sports from a young age; but in high school, Katie was told she might as well quit because she would be riding the bench. This only motivated Katie to continue playing the sports she loves. Katie joined the Special Recreation Association of Lake County (SRACLC) where she competed in almost every sport imaginable including baseball, soccer, swimming, and even snowshoeing. After competing through the SRACLC, Katie began training for Special Olympics in 2003.

Powerlifting is Katie’s most recent competitive sport, and she has thrived as the only girl on her seven-member team. She quickly took to the sport and excelled in bench pressing. Kelly Smith, her former coach, put it best by calling Katie her “gold digger.” Katie won three gold medals at the Illinois Special Olympics State Summer Games in 2017. “My favorite thing would have to be the bench. I went up in weight last year,” says Katie.

When asked how Katie’s participation in Special Olympics has affected her, Kasmer-Millar responded, “It instills the participants with a confidence that they have not had before.” Katie currently lives independently with three roommates as a result of the education, training, and support of Special Olympics.

Katie’s passion for athletics on and off the field led her to an internship at Northwestern University in the athletic department. She was able to receive college credit, only adding to her impressive list of accomplishments. Katie also works at Sears in receiving and at Jewel, a regional supermarket.

Katie’s ambition is not limited to athletic endeavors, and her influence in her local community is undeniable. Katie has joined the Mundelein Police Department in the annual Polar Plunge for the past three years to raise money for Special Olympics. “Katie has a positive attitude. She laughs and smiles and when you can get her into that mood she’ll melt your heart,” says Katie’s mother. It is no surprise that she has so much hometown support.

Katie’s leadership expands beyond Mundelein, Illinois. She serves as a Special Olympics Illinois Global Messenger to speak to audiences about how Special Olympics empowers people with intellectual disabilities. Her former coach, Brenden Cannon, recommended Katie after seeing a need for a new crop of global messengers. The Millars view Katie’s role as a way to give back to Special Olympics.

Katie’s position as a Global Messenger has contributed to her personal and professional development. Katie’s mother is her official speech coach and has given her the skills she needs to channel her positive energy and passion for Special Olympics when speaking in front of large crowds. Katie says, “It is nerve racking to talk in front of people, but I get really good feedback.”

This confidence permeates what could be a divisive competitive environment. Gender imbalances often present challenges, but Katie and her powerlifting team treat each other as equals. Rather than being intimidated as only one of twenty female powerlifters in the state, she feels a strong sense of camaraderie and equality with teammates. “I feel like I’m the same,” says Katie. For her, this is one of many reasons that makes Special Olympics truly special.

Katie Millar at the 2013 Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games.
Photo Credit: Judy Kasmer-Millar

Katie Millar inspires women of all ages and backgrounds in her powerlifting career. The woman we see today is not only an impressive athlete but also an example of leadership. Kelly Smith says in an email, “Each woman brings her own goals, determination, and passion to the sport. I would think little girls (with and without disabilities) would see these women lifting competitively and say, ‘Why not me? I can do that too. I want to be as strong and powerful as her.’”

Katie will help celebrate the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary at celebrations from 17-21 July in Chicago, Ill., where the first Special Olympics International Summer Games were held in 1968. She will use her shining personality as a greeter for participants, their families, and all those in attendance. Events include a four-day Special Olympics Unified Cup soccer match, which will bring together competitors with and without intellectual disabilities from every region of the world.


Jackie and Paige Unified Bocce Partners take on USA Games in Seattle!


 


All for One, and One for Basketball


 

Special Olympics Illinois Men’s Basketball team heads to the USA Games this summer in Seattle
By Mary Mattingly and Julia Sumouske

 

CHIGACO-In 2004, Ron Bellinger started his first season as assistant coach for a Special Olympics-sponsored men’s basketball team. This summer, Coach Bellinger will serve as head coach for a carefully curated team of elite players at the USA Games in Seattle, Washington.

The USA Games will kick off July 1 and run through July 6 at Washington University. Players include Juston VanCleve and Shawn Logan, long time basketball players from the Chicago area.

VanCleave started his basketball career when he was only 18 years old. His friend in high school introduced him to the sport, and he joined the Lincoln team in Chicago. Now, he plays center for the Pathway Services on the advanced athlete team. He has placed second and third state titles with his former teams, Decatur and Lincoln. Although he has participated in national championship tournaments, going to the Special Olympics event this summer is by far the biggest accomplishment of his athletic career.

But this accomplishment did not come easy.

“Everything requires you to put the energy in,” said VanCleave.

Being on the advanced team is a renowned title, and VanCleave gives credit to all of those who provided mentorship along the way. His biggest takeaway from being in the Special Olympics program is watching the lower divisions play, just like his mentors watched him play in the lower division. He helps train and play the athletes in the lower divisions and loves this aspect of the Special Olympics and is considering taking time off from his own athletic career to become a coach for lower division teams to give back to those who love to play.

“I get the greatest joy from seeing the lower divisions play and seeing how their hard work can pay off,” said VanCleave. “Being in a higher division, people in the lower divisions, look up to us.”

Juston VanCleve, Competing in a local basketball tournament in Lincoln, IL, Photo provided by Juston VanCleve.

Coach Bellinger was introduced to the Special Olympics organization when his son, who is diagnosed with autism, started speed skating at only 8 years-old. His son is now 23 and is still involved in softball, basketball, bowling and bocce ball through the Special Olympics program.

Bellinger’s 14-year career coaching basketball has allowed him to truly leave his mark on the organization. He became a high school referee with the sole purpose of serving Special Olympics and is a member of the Special Olympics games committee. His family is known in the organization for volunteering for the basketball teams. He and his wife opened their own center for Special Olympics, Peoria, and Center Illinois Independence, this year where they now have 22 athletes. The center is all funded by donors, so the athletes don’t pay a dime.

The Bellinger family was named family of the year for all of their volunteer work in Illinois, a truly great accomplishment from the Special Olympics organization.

Since 1996, Shawn Logan has played floor hockey, volleyball, and basketball Special Olympics programs for Eckhart Park. Logan has participated in over 50 Special Olympics competitions, with multiple gold medals to prove it. For the upcoming USA Games in Seattle, Logan has one goal in mind.

“We will bring home THE GOLD,” exclaimed Logan.

The USA Games in Seattle are an excellent opportunity for Logan to showcase his athletic abilities, and his gratitude for the Special Olympics organization is admirable.

Basketball was introduced as a Special Olympics sport in 1975. The USA basketball team is determined each year by a gaming committee. The criteria for team selection looks at if their local team advanced to the 2017 State Basketball Tournament, how they perform on their local teams during the season (skill, sportsmanship towards own team, opposing team, coaches and officials) and how they perform during tryouts.

This year, the Special Olympics organization is celebrating their 50 years of community, unity and empowerment. Support for the athletes, even in the simplest way, is welcomed. For more information on the celebratory events taking place this summer and how you can make a difference, visit https://www.specialolympics.org/50th.aspx.