Inspiring Stories Stories

#inthistogether T-Shirt


 

During the good times, in-between times and these times that we’re in now, it is important to stay Unified.

The #inthistogether shirt is to celebrate how much of a community we are at all times.

FYI, this is not a fundraiser, but an opportunity for all of us to show community.

PURCHASE YOURS TODAY


Meet Eddie Sitzman


 

Eddie is a very busy sixteen year old living a productive life filled with family, education, faith, community, and athletics.

He attends Oak Park and River Forest High School where he learns in an inclusive, general education environment with support from resource and co-teachers.  He is an Usher at Sunday mass, provides care and feeding of pets in the neighborhood, and helps manage the varsity soccer team.  Best Buddies and Opportunity Knocks are among his social outlets and he is looking forward to his second summer at Camp PALS, a sleep away camp for young adults with Down syndrome.  Eddie is a natural athlete with a strong will to succeed and a passion to participate in sport in any form.

We were introduced to Special Olympics Illinois in 2008 by a fellow parishioner who asked whether our five year old would be interested in a Young Athlete Program.  The next week our new friend stopped by the house with a bag full of athletic gear and instructions for physical activities.  We created obstacle courses and games and watched as our intent for purposeful development of fundamental motor skills and eye-hand coordination transformed into inclusive play and athletic competition among neighbors and classmates.  At the age of nine, Eddie started training with West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA) to participate in his first Special Olympics track and field competition.  Classmates, teachers, and extended family came to watch, Eddie thrived on the attention and we witnessed the unleashing of his competitive spirit.  It was clear that this was going to be his thing…and his extended family and friends came along for the ride.

Among the driving forces for Eddie’s development in middle school was a dynamic special education teacher who championed inclusion and nurtured Eddie’s evolving self-awareness.  She guided him into the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program where he became a member of the Youth Activation Committee made up of young people from around the state committed to activating students with the tools and skills to build cultures of inclusiveness.  His athletic achievement expanded from regional to the Special Olympics Summer Games and a Unified Soccer team that competed in Special Olympics tournaments at Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park.

Now in his sophomore year of high school, Eddie’s passion for athletic competition is fulfilled by Unified Soccer (State Champions), Basketball (State Qualified), and Swimming (State Qualified).   Sidelined by the global response to COVID-19, his plans to compete in Special Olympics Track & Field, Soccer, and Golf have given way to long walks, bike rides, and shooting baskets in the back yard…and plenty of time to reflect on the person he has become.

Eddie is aware that he has a disability, accepts the inherent challenges, and genuinely likes who he is. As a Youth Activation representative he advocated to “Spread the Word to End the Word” in classrooms and at events.  He appeared on Fox Morning News to talk about celebrating our differences and helped create the tag line “Respect is My Superpower”. 

Physical fitness and healthy choices are part of Eddie’s mindset and daily routine.  The quality of the Special Olympics experience has instilled in him a life-long interest in healthy behavior that has made him more resilient and will improve the quality of his adult life.

The structure of Special Olympics competition has allowed Eddie to find his level of excellence, celebrate his abilities and convey a quiet confidence in every aspect of his life.  He believes that with the right attitude and effort good things are possible. 

Eddie is an extraordinary young man and a positive influence in the collaboration that forms the fabric of his community….’it takes a village’.  We would be remiss not to express our deep gratitude to members of the Oak Park School and Park Districts, Special Recreation Associations, his incredible classmates and their parents…and of course our fellow parishioner, now good friend, who introduced us to Special Olympics Illinois.


Meet Daniel Cramer


 

Daniel Cramer was born on the 25th of June in 1999.  He was born six weeks early, but he quickly gained strength and met all his growth milestones on time.  Sadly, though, when Daniel turned two, he had his first seizure.  He lost all his speech and muscle tone and, suddenly, he was not the little boy we had come to know.  After going from doctor to doctor, Daniel was finally diagnosed with Autism, developmental delay, and seizure disorder.  It took many years of work to get him to talk again and socialize.  When Daniel turned eight, we introduced him to Special Olympics Illinois and the rest is history.

Daniel started bowling and, he loved it so much, he started playing other sports too.  He now participates in Basketball, Bocce, Bowling, Track and Field, Tennis, Golf, Volleyball, Powerlifting and Snowshoeing, and is still always looking for more sports to play.

In powerlifting, Daniel can bench 165 pounds, and he lifts 360 pounds in the dead weight competition.  He and his family feel that powerlifting has given Daniel the strength to do well in all his sports.  In the last 12 years of competing, he has earned over 140 medals!

As a highlight of his Special Olympics Illinois career, Daniel was chosen to represent Team USA in the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.  He and his brother Ryan competed in Unified Bocce at the games.  He had the experience of a lifetime meeting other athletes from around the world and making many new friends, many of whom he continues to communicate with through Facebook.  Daniel made everyone very proud when he won gold, silver, and bronze medals for Team USA!

When Daniel came home, he was honored by the Mayor of Round Lake Beach at a groundbreaking Heroes ceremony. He also went to Springfield and was honored by Governor Pritzker during a luncheon at the Governors Manson.

Along with great sports skills, Daniel also demonstrates leadership skills, as well.  For example, after he graduated high school, there wasn’t a local basketball team on which Daniel could play, so he decided to start his own team!  He got six friends to join, found a local, indoor court to use and, with the help of his mother/coach, team “Independent Remarc‐a‐Bulls” was formed. This season, the team was undefeated and qualified for state!

Daniel continues to play as many sports as he can and, during this uncertain time, he is participating in the online “School of Strength” challenge to stay strong and healthy.  Speaking of healthy, Daniel is also a Health Messenger for Special Olympics Illinois and he takes it very seriously.  He wants to keep all of his fellow athletes fit and healthy, too, and extends his own challenge to all of them…“Will all my fellow athletes please take the challenge and keep fit in this time of social distancing.”

Well said, Daniel, and congratulations on all of your success.  Thank you for setting a wonderful example for your fellow athletes, peers, and everyone!


Meet Stephen Katz


 

Stephen Katz is a young man of many talents. Born in November of 1984, Stephen entered the world with blond hair, blue eyes, nostagmia, Down Syndrome, and jaundice. The jaundice gave way to several days under the Billierubin Lights… perhaps that was a sign of things to come as stage lights were in his future!


Stephen also had hypotonia which is a weak muscle condition that caused his arms and legs to just hang from his body. That diagnosis gave way to a word being eliminated from our vocabulary: “CAN’T.” After so many doctors, specialists, insurance companies and other professionals left our family overloaded with “CAN’TS,” we chose “CAN” and boy “CAN” he ever now!


Stephen has been bagging groceries for the last 14+ years at Jewel/Osco and has been named Employee of the Month. He also was named The Change for Champions Ambassador for Special Olympics Illinois/Jewel-Osco in 2016. On top of winning numerous Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and Ribbons in his 27 years of competition, he is training to become a Global Messenger and earn the Navy Blue Blazer. Stephen has participated in many sports over the years, starting with Track & Field when he was eight years old. He has a long list of sports that he has participated in including Running and Standing Long Jumps, Softball Throw, 50- and100-Meter dash and Relay, and then Shot Put in High School. Basketball was added in Middle School, continued through High School, and he still participates with the local Special Rec Association. SRA also provided the training needed for gymnastics, which he also added in High School and progressed and continued after graduation in 2006. Swimming, Volleyball and Powerlifting were also added in High School, and he continued volleyball for several years, as well, after he graduated. Stephen retired approximately 10 years ago as an All Around Athlete, with his final District meet netting him all Gold medals in his seven events.


His prowess in powerlifting continues with an independent team called “The Rebels” with his workouts taking place at a local CrossFit facility. Stephen’s current lift stats as of the 2019 Special Olympic Illinois Summer Games included the Squat at 250 lbs., where he earned silver; Benchpress at 205lbs., where he earned Bronze; and Deadlift at 315 lbs., where he earned Gold!


Stephen doesn’t stop there! He also plays baseball for the BGRA Buddy Baseball League, and it was his idea to also help coach the junior teams.
Weeks, months and years of feeding, occupational, speech and physical therapies have led Stephen to enjoy tasting new foods, like reindeer sausage on a trip to Alaska, and Stephen’s “CAN DO” spirit has helped him to achieve many of his successes in sports and in life. He has walked across a suspension bridge in Tennessee, explored caves in South Dakota, sledded down a 300-foot ice run in Fairbanks, Alaska, and changed diapers (only #1…) for his niece and nephews. He also adds modeling and volunteering for the NWSRA/SLSF Gold Medal Fashion Show to his list of non-stop activities!


Stephen has two Looney Tunes illustrations hanging in his room. One says “Determination” and the other says “Persistence.” Perhaps it is those that have encouraged his “Can Do” spirit and his “Funnyman” sense of humor. That spirit helped earn him the Freeburg award in 2006. Stephen volunteers for NWSRA/SLSF, the local Frontier Days Festival, and Special Olympics Illinois, and in 2012 Stephen and his parents received the Volunteer Family of the Year Award from Special Olympics Illinois.
Stephen continues to impress with his smile, sense of humor, and willingness to help, but it is that “CAN DO” spirit that truly makes him special.