Inspiring Stories Stories

2019 MedFest a Huge Success


On November 6, 2019, the United Center hosted the 21st Annual Special Olympics Illinois MedFest. The 2019 MedFest brought over 1,700 aspiring and current Special Olympics athletes from across the city of Chicago to the United Center.

Athletes received free sports physicals from over 100 health professionals from Advocate Medical Group. Since its inception, an outstanding 29,000 exams have been given.

MedFest provides Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and Independent Agencies the opportunity to receive a complete – and completely free – sports physical from our medical partners at Advocate Medical Group.

Once a physical examination indicates the individual is healthy, the athlete is cleared to begin training, competition, and routine physical activity expected for participation in his or her sport.

Beyond the free sports physical, MedFest introduces athletes to a variety of health initiatives such as Opening Eyes and Healthy Habits Stations (Hydration & Physical Activity).

Opening Eyes provided by Lions International supplied over 170 athletes free eye exams and eyewear. The Hydration Station saw around 300 athletes. There, athletes learned about healthy drink choices.

The Physical Activity station was a massive hit for athletes. Athletes chose from a variety of exercises such as jumping jacks or pushup then competed to see how many of each activity they could complete in 30 seconds. Additionally, athletes learned other healthy tips such as limiting TV time and getting a good night’s rest.

MedFest and its’ 21 years of entirety could not be what it is today without dedicated volunteers. Over 200 people volunteered this year alone– stemming from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Ridgewood High School, St. Rita High School, United Airlines, United Center, and Walgreens, to name a few.

From donating the venue space to the event production, hospitality, medial, and security staff, the United Center sources a volunteer base from many different departments making them an integral part of the success of the event.

“Volunteering at Special Olympics Illinois’s MedFest is such a rewarding experience,” said Robert Reynolds – an employee at Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois.

Robert has been involved with MedFest for a couple of years. He was so enthralled by the event and its’ impact he later proposed the idea of volunteering to his colleagues at Walgreens.

 “The best part of MedFest is, without a doubt, the athletes– their smiles, joy, and high-fives.” Robert encouraged his colleagues, like Kaenye Prince, to join him.

“This year is my second year of volunteering at MedFest,” explained Kaenye.

“I volunteer to give back to the community, yet I leave MedFest with a renewed sense of joy and fulfillment, which comes from the athletes, and the daily obstacles they may face.”

MedFest would not be possible without the continuous support of The United Center, Advocate Medical Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, Levy Restaurants, Jewel Osco, and Astellas, local high schools -St. Rita and Ridgewood. These partners have dedicated their time and staff to MedFest for 21 incredible years.

Lisa Menichino Kicks off the CCIW Women’s Tennis Championship with the Opening Serve


Saturday, October 19, marked an exciting day for long-time tennis player Lisa Menichino. Lisa kicked off the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Women’s Tennis Championship with an honorary serve.

She has been competing with Special Olympics Illinois since 1985. Lisa cherishes Special Olympics for many reasons, some of which provided Lisa the opportunity to play sports, including tennis.

Lisa was honored to take part in such an inclusive event. The experience was exhilarating as it was her first time at a tennis championship of this caliber.

“The CCIW was honored to have Special Olympics Illinois athlete Lisa Menichino on hand to kick off the final day of the 2019 CCIW Women’s Tennis Championship on October 19,” CCIW Assistant Executive Director Mike Krizman said.

At the event, Lisa said a few inspiring words to the crowd, wished the group good luck, and prepared for her honorary serve.

Lisa’s 20 years of tennis experience did not let her down as she served to Carroll University’s No. 1 singles player, Grace Krueger.

“She truly embodies all of the wonderful traits that being a Special Olympics athlete is all about, and we were honored to have her as our guest.”

Special Olympics Illinois and CCIW built a partnership in 2012. The connection was established through a bocce ball clinic between Special Olympics Illinois and the CCIW Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC). The clinic is held annually in conjunction with CCIW’s end-of-the-year SAAC meeting.

“We’re proud of our partnership with Special Olympics Illinois,” Krizman continued. “The CCIW looks forward to growing that partnership through additional collaboration and participation in the future.”

View Lisa’s Honorary Serve here!

SO Athlete, Nick Lorenz wins Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres


It is with such pride to hear stories about how Special Olympics Illinois (SOILL) grows the confidence of athlete’s well-being off the field of play, helping them achieve such great things at school, in social circles, and in the workplace. So, when Nick Lorenz won The 2019 Ben Marcus Humanitarian Award from Marcus Theatres for his commitment and customer service to the organization, it was well deserved, and fits Nick’s energetic personality. Another key criteria to selecting award winners is finding exceptional associates who have gone above and beyond in their volunteering for others. Not only is Nick a Special Olympics Illinois athlete of 16 years (Basketball, Volleyball, Golf, Swimming, Bocce Ball, Bowling and Track & Field), but he goes above and beyond for SOILL as a competitor, a fundraiser, and a volunteer. Separate of Special Olympics Illinois, Nick is a volunteer for Lincoln Way Special Recreation Association, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Marcus Theatres is a division of The Marcus Corporation that is the fourth largest theater circuit in the Unites States and currently owns or operates 1,106 screens at 91 locations in 17 states. One location is in Orland Park, Illinois, where Nick has worked for three

years doing everything from taking tickets, to helping in the lobby and concession area, to customer service. “I like helping customers find their theater and helping them at concessions with the pop machine. I like working with all of my co-workers.”, Nick says.

As his parents, Pam and Scott say, “He loves his job at Marcus and feels like he is a big part of the community.” They site Special Olympics Illinois as a big contributor to their son’s confidence and continued outgoing personality, “It has helped Nick become a stronger person, both mentally and physically, (it has) taught him how to handle both winning and losing the right way. Since becoming a Global Messenger, with Special Olympics Illinois, his self-confidence has grown immensely.”

Congratulations to you, Nick for proving what you can do in sport, at work, and in the community. Being a Global Messenger is one part of the Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Program, and by winning this award, you are showing what it is to be a leader for all of us. Keep up the great work!

(Pictured left, Nick Lorenz and Greg Marcus, President and CEO of The Marcus Corporation.)

Three Truck Convoys One Common Cause


This fall, law enforcement and truckers throughout the state joined to support Special Olympics Illinois. Officers involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Illinois adopted the Truck Convoy as one of their annual signature events, and now the group hosts three Truck Convoys across Illinois: the Sears Centre Convoy in Hoffman Estates, the Troy Truck Convoy (hosted by CIT Trucks), and the Tinley Park Convoy (presented by Action Truck Parts). Together, these events raised $160,000, and in total, 285 trucks participated.

The annual event not only raises funds to benefit the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois, but it also fosters long-time friendships.

Mark Hohs, a long-time driver for Jewel-Osco, is set to retire after 37 years of unwavering devotion to the company. Upon retirement, Mark will “pass the Truck Convoy torch” to fellow Jewel-Osco driver, Jim Bowen, who also has close ties to Special Olympics Illinois.

Mark began driving in the Truck Convoys through working at Jewel-Osco. Jewel-Osco is a proud sponsor of Special Olympics Illinois and was well represented on the road during the Truck Convoys.

The past four years, Mark participated in the Sears Centre and Tinley Park Convoys, this year being his final year of participation. Over those four years, Mark grew close to Steve Katz, a Special Olympics Illinois athlete from Arlington Heights. From the beginning, the two bonded, as they both are proud employees of Jewel-Osco. The duo drove together during the Sears Centre and Tinley Park Convoys for four years straight.

While driving in the convoy, Mark was never short of encouragement and laughter from his trusty co-pilot, Steve. Mark and Steve would banter on about which truck would lead the group in the convoy this year.

Year after year, Mark walked away from the convoys feeling empowered due to Steve’s motivating attitude to always try his best.

Steve taught Mark what it truly means to be an athlete — commitment, passion, and the “be brave in the attempt” effort it takes to compete.

“I am very proud of Jewel-Osco’s involvement with Special Olympics Illinois,” said Hohs. “Because of Jewel-Osco, I met Steve, which created lasting memories that the two of us will share.”

We graciously thank Mark for his dedication to Special Olympics Illinois and welcome Jim with open arms to our Special Olympics Illinois family.

Breakfast of Executive Champions 


I’ll have scrambled eggs with a side of inspiration please!

On October 9th, two hundred-fifty members of the business community started their day at The Dalcy in Chicago’s Fulton Market District, ready to learn more about the programs and athletes at Special Olympics Illinois.  Some guests were old friends and supporters, but the majority of the audience had never been formally introduced to our organization.

SOILL Board Chair, Karen Atwood, opened the program with a message of strength and confidence.  She explained to the audience, the power of our 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and other certifications, and that an astounding 81% of our revenue is directed for program use.  She also shared personal stories of athletes and families who motivate her to devote her energy and skill to SOILL.

President and CEO, Dave Breen, took the podium next, describing how and why he became involved in Special Olympics Illinois three decades ago, and enumerating our full range of programs.  Most guests were already familiar with the sports programs that have been our core since 1968, but many were surprised and delighted to hear about our Health, Leadership and Inclusion programs.  In many cases, these disciplines have a direct relationship to what companies strive to achieve every day: teamwork, determination, health & wellness, personal development, and diversity & inclusion.    Then Dave introduced Garrett Anderson.

From the first boom of his voice, to his final word, Garrett impressed the audience with his message of empowerment, and what it means to be a champion.  He talked about setting aside the kind of pessimism our athletes face every day in being told what they can and can’t do.  Instead he suggested setting goals, working with a plan, learning from failure, and winning with grace. Every person in attendance could relate to Garret’s message of perseverance.

Then Dave Breen returned to the stage to introduce Mike Greenberg and Don Shannon of Interior Investments, a company who has quietly raised over half a million dollars through their unique signature event to benefit SOILL, (a chair hockey tournament).  Interior Investments was awarded the very first “Executive Champion” award not just for their fundraising efforts, but also for partnering with SOILL on many other projects.  The owners described the history of their event, and how profoundly Special Olympics Illinois has impacted the culture of their organization. After thanking their employees, many of whom were in the audience, for their dedication to supporting the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois, they challenged the audience members to do the same.

Then it was time to get back to the office, informed and inspired, but before leaving, guests provided feedback.  Many made donations, while others offered help in the way of in-kind support and volunteerism, but all were positive and affirming.  Thank you to the business community for sharing a meal with us, and becoming members of the extended Special Olympics Illinois family.  You are all Champions!