50 for 50th Stories

A Coach’s Perspective on Special Olympics


Nineteen Years of Freezing For a Reason


The 2018 Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge season kicks off this Friday with the SUPER Plunge at Clark Street Beach in Evanston. It is the first of 24 Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge events around the state that will benefit Special Olympics Illinois.

Over 70 brave SUPER Plungers will begin jumping into Lake Michigan at 2 pm. Friday, Feb. 16 and the plunging elite will continue once an hour for 24 hours until 1 pm Saturday, Feb. 17.

During the SUPER Plunge, Chicago Blackhawks fans are invited to join Tommy Hawk for a Blackhawks Plunge Hour on Feb. 17 at 10:00 am. Participants must raise a minimum of $100 and will be entered for a chance to win four tickets to a 2018 Blackhawks home game and locker room tour.

As Special Olympics turns 50, we celebrate all of the fundraisers that have helped support sports training and competition for athletes. The LETR Polar Plunge has a long-standing history with Special Olympics. For 19 years, adventurous souls have taken to the icy waters of local lakes throughout the state. In 1999, Plunge started in Lake Bluff with 150 Plungers raising more than $34,000. The Polar Plunge has since grown to 24 plunge events throughout Illinois and in that time, more than 66,000 plungers have raised more than $18.4 million.

Warm-hearted individuals are encouraged to be bold and get cold by taking the plunge with local law enforcement officers and others from the community at one of 23 “traditional” Plunges (one plunge per participant) happening statewide. Each Plunger must raise a minimum of $100 and will receive a cardinal red Polar Plunge hooded sweatshirt.

This year features 2 NEW Traditional Plunges:

February 17 – Carbondale

February 18 – Evanston

February 18 – Palatine

February 24– Bloomington, Carlyle, Mahomet, Mendota, Quincy

February 25 – Fox Lake, Galesburg

March 3 – Benton, Chatham, Decatur, Effingham, Manteno, Oak Brook, Rockford

March 4 – Macomb, Yorkville,

March 9 – Belleville (NEW)

March 10 – Joliet, Champaign (NEW)

March 25 – Rock Island

For more information, to register, or to support a plunger, visit www.plungeillinois.com. Join the conversation on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using hashtag #PlungeWith.

All proceeds benefit the 23,000 athletes and 20,000 Young Athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run® is the single largest year-round fundraising vehicle benefiting Special Olympics Illinois. The annual intrastate relay and its various fundraising projects have two goals: to raise money and to gain awareness for the athletes who participate in Special Olympics Illinois. The Law Enforcement Torch Run® has raised more than $47 million over 32 years while increasing awareness of Special Olympics Illinois athletes and their accomplishments.

We thank our Statewide Presenting Polar Plunge Sponsors: GEICO, RIU Hotels & Resorts, and Apple Vacations.

Polar Plunge

Special Olympics Illinois Welcomes New Athlete Board Member at 2018 Winter Games


On February 6, the town of Galena, Illinois opened its arms and welcomed Special Olympics Illinois for the 38th Annual Winter Games. More than 440 athletes competed in snowshoeing and Alpine skiing over the course of three days at Chestnut Mountain. In honor of the 50th Anniversary, the Opening Ceremony was made extra special. After the parade of athletes through downtown Galena and speeches, the festivities ended in a beautiful fireworks display. Special Olympics Illinois also welcomed athlete and Global Messenger, Daniel Smrokowski, to the Board of Directors. Daniel, who graduated with a journalism degree from Roosevelt University, hosts his own podcast called Special Chronicles – an outlet that provides a voice for those with intellectual disabilities across the globe. Daniel also serves on the 50th Anniversary Marketing & Communications Committee and has been a wonderful asset to the planning and preparation of the 50th Anniversary happening later this summer. Please enjoy his recap of Winter Games below:


By Daniel Smrokowski


I am honored that this past Tuesday, February 6th I attended by first Board of Directors meeting for Special Olympics Illinois.  I am honored to be a new board member and am grateful for this opportunity to serve my fellow athletes on being on the board.  I’m grateful to meet so many kind Board members who care about the Special Olympics movement in transforming the lives for those of us with intellectual disabilities.


As this year 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Special Olympics movement, I am excited to help guide on SOILL Board of Directors, and the Marketing/Communications committee, as we discuss and promote ways to share the stories of how Special Olympics transforms the lives for those of us with intellectual disabilities as we Choose To Include in this Inclusion Revolution.


This is my second time attending the Winter Games.  The first time was about four years ago when I podcasted live and photographed at the 2014 Winter Games.  This year, 2018, I returned to not only be voted in as a new board member but also to produce media.  During the Parade of Athletes and Opening Ceremonies that took place on Tuesday evening in downtown Galena, I Took Over the Special Olympics Illinois Facebook Live stream to bring our community a live look at all that took place as this year’s State Winter Games were declared open.  I also once again went a top Chestnut Mountain in Galena– this time Assistant Director of Digital Marketing Teresa Crudele-Seidel and I were joined by special guest Assistant Director of Communications Alex McMillin for a special LIVE Edition of our Tuesday’s with Teresa podcast series, bringing you behind-the-scenes of the Special Olympics movement.




Join Athlete Mallory Taylor for the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics


Join Special Olympics Illinois athlete and Global Messenger Mallory Taylor at the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary this July in Chicago! Learn more at www.specialolympics50.org:

50 Years of Golden Inspiration


On February 6th, 7th, and 8th, Galena will once again welcome athletes from throughout the state for the Special Olympics Illinois Winter Games.  It will also be one particular athlete’s chance to be golden… again.

Just a few months before the first Special Olympics games at Soldier Field in Chicago, the world welcomed Mike Barry. Now, almost fifty years later, Mike has accomplished more than many would ever dream to do in a lifetime.  After all, how many of us can claim that we compete, and win, in a myriad of sports including Alpine Skiing, Track and Field, Softball, Golf, Volleyball, and Basketball.  Mike has done so and in fact, he was been named a Special Olympics Illinois Athlete of the Year, and has participated in the national and international Special Olympics Games.

One of Mike’s first opportunities to shine came when he was in Monmouth High School.  His Special Education teacher was also the Track and Field coach, and recognized that Mike had athletic skills. “He invited Mike to compete on the school team and all his team mates embraced him” says Cathy Betar, Region F Director for Special Olympics Illinois, “and that was long before inclusion was a thing like it is today.”

The desire to be inclusive is one of the many qualities noted about Mike by his peers.  For example, when asked about Mike’s abilities, his current coach for the Warren County Special Olympics Falcons, Tom Glenn, says, “He’s a leader in a quiet way.  He’s always positive and he has the ability to perform under pressure.”  Mike and Tom met in May of 2015 when Mike was preparing to go to the Summer Games in Bloomington, Illinois, and has been inspiring Tom ever since.  “He loves Special Olympics and he loves competing” says Tom. “He enjoys his teammates and his coaches, and he never has an unkind word or poor sportsmanship in any way.”

The inspiration continues when Mike isn’t competing, as he brings joy to customers whom have seen him at work at Cerar’s Barnstormer Steakhouse restaurant in Monmouth for over 20 years.  “That boy rides his bike here regardless of the weather” says Lori Callihan, Bar Manager, who has known Mike for over 30 years. “He has the biggest heart.  Whether it’s a job or a favor, Mike never says no. He is just a giving person throughout every aspect of life. He inspires all of us because, well, he is just so sweet. He does the dishes and smiles the whole time he does it.”

Mike gives a whole new meaning to the word drive, too, not referring to the act of making a car move. Driving an automobile is one of the few things that Mike doesn’t do, but that didn’t stop him a few years ago.  Cathy Betar recalls, “He had missed his ride to compete in our Spring Games so he jumped on his bicycle and rode it 16 miles just so he could compete.”

Mike is driving, again, in another way to help his wife, Joyce, as she undergoes cancer therapy.  “Mike has always been there for Joyce supporting her.  As an athlete, when I first met him, he was being positive and encouraging her to do her best” says his coach, Tom.  “During Joyce’s illness he has been like a rock and very positive and always has a good outlook.”

The state, the nation, and the world are preparing to come together this July to celebrate the birth of Special Olympics fifty years ago.  It was at those first games when many people had their first glimpse at the athleticism, drive, and compassion shown by their peers with intellectual disabilities.  And as friends and family help Mike Barry celebrate his 50th birthday, they, too, will be celebrating a man whom has demonstrated his athletic abilities and drive, while encouraging and bringing joy to others.

Happy Birthday, Special Olympics.  Happy Birthday, Mike.  Thank you both, for providing inspiration for so many, and for demonstrating that love for others is truly golden.