The Beginning of New Adventures

The beginning of a new adventure often brings forth emotions of thrill and excitement. Special Olympics Missouri athlete, Gabe Metzger of Cape Girardeau and his family are at the forefront of such emotions with their recent involvement with Special Olympics.

Metzger has only been competing for a year thus far. However, he appears to have an interest that will last for a lifetime.

“When Gabe gets involved, he does not mess around,” said Southeast Area Director, Penny Williams. “He gets completely involved. He has had so many opportunities in such a short period of time – he is all about it!”

The first opportunity where Metzger could get involved was at the Area Spring Games held in Cape Girardeau.

“He began this event, the way many Special Olympics athletes dream of starting the event, by running the ceremonial torch in the Opening Ceremony,” Williams said.

This experience alone would have been memorial for any athlete. It was extra special for the Metzger family because it allowed Cape Girardeau P.D. officer father Ty, to run with his Special Olympics Missouri athlete son, Gabe.

“What an honor and a privilege it was for both of us to get to do this,” Ty said.
Metzger’s first experience was indeed unique for him and his family, but those memorable moments for the Metzger family kept on coming.

Gabe Metzger poses for a photo on the award stand after receiving three gold medals at the Cape Girardea Area Swim Meet.

Gabe Metzger poses for a photo on the award stand after receiving three gold medals at the Cape Girardea Area Swim Meet.

It was at Metzger’s SOMO area swim meet where he received three gold medals. Once again, this alone would have been a memorable achievement for any athlete, but there was more.

“To make the day even better, was that his teachers from Jackson and his sisters were all there to support him,” Williams said. “He was so fired up that he even swam extra laps. Gabe’s face was lit with excitement as he knew, and understood, that all those people were there just for him.”

When asked, Metzger and his father said, “This was the best day!”
Metzger’s support does not end with his family and friends. It can also be felt among the local community.

Metzger was lucky enough to be asked by the Cape Girardeau Police Department to join them in their leg of the State Summer Games Law Enforcement Torch Run.

This particular torch run provided a different atmosphere compared to the Opening Ceremony at the Area Spring Games. Metzger ran through a major city street with people from surrounding businesses and the citizens of the community all cheering for Metzger, his father and many other Law Enforcement officers.

“All of the officers talked about Gabe and how much they loved having him be a part of the run,” Williams said.

Gabe Metzger, standing in front row, poses for a photo with members of the Cape Girardeau P.D. during their leg of the 2014 State Summer Games Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Gabe Metzger, standing in front row, poses for a photo with members of the Cape Girardeau P.D. during their leg of the 2014 State Summer Games Law Enforcement Torch Run.

It’s evident that Metzger has had several memorable days in his brief involvement with Special Olympics Missouri thus far. Those days have left an impact in his life, the surrounding community and his family and friends as well.

“Special Olympics has become so much more to us,” Ty said. “It is no longer just a great day or a series of great days for Gabe – it has become a part of our life every day.”

Special Olympics Missouri provides unique opportunities for every individual involved, whether they are law enforcement officers, volunteers, family members and obviously athletes. Therefore, the emotions of thrill and excitement are bound to happen when an athlete and their family begin a new adventure.

There’s No Place Like Home: 20 Years on Staff

By Trish Lutz, Senior Director of Programs

With Richie Wallace

With Richie Wallace

In May 1991, I graduated from Pittsburg State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations and a minor in business administration. Like any other college graduate, I hit the pavement to find a job. In August 1991, I was offered the position as the Missouri Special Olympics Area IV (now KC Metro) Administrative Assistant. I had the choice of taking the job with SOMO or being a marketing assistant who helped market modular prisons where I would make more money, but I chose to take the route of a more fulfilling job. Little did I know that it was not only a fulfilling job, but one that seeped deep within my soul to the point that I cannot imagine my life without Special Olympics.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the attitude of the abilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities was a lot different than it is now. However, I had the fortunate opportunity to have two best friends growing up that had siblings with intellectual disabilities that I got to spend tons of time with.

Kim Wallace and I first met in 4th grade. She was shy and I was outgoing. She was short, I was tall. She liked to study and read, I liked to talk and socialize. We were complete opposites, but we soon became the best of friends and still are as she was the matron of honor at my wedding 17 years ago. Kim was the second to youngest of 5 kids and her older brother, Richie was born with Down syndrome. I had never been around individuals with Down syndrome and I was little apprehensive at first but when I saw how Kim’s family interacted with Richie and didn’t treat him any differently, I realized that Richie was person just like me.

Mindy Oliver

Mindy Oliver

Soon after, Nikki Oliver and I because good friends through girl scouts and dance. Her mom, Nancy, was my dance teacher. Nikki was the youngest of three girls and her oldest sister, Mindy, had an intellectual disability. I would often go to Nikki’s house after school and Nikki, Mindy and I would hang out. I loved being with Mindy. She was always so happy and smiling all the time. She would get excited when she saw me and ask me a ton of questions (always the same questions, but I never got tired of answering them). She would watch us practice dance and tell me I did a good job. She would cheer for us at our volleyball and basketball games. Mindy was always that lift I needed.

As my career with SOMO began to evolve, I became the first Missouri KC Metro Area Director. Special Olympics Kansas and Special Olympics Missouri decided to embark on a new adventure and join the two area programs since the only thing that divided us was State Line Road. The Kansas KC Metro Area Director and I combined our largest event, our Area Spring Games (track and field). It was at this event that everything came full circle for me. Both Mindy and Richie participated with Special Olympics Kansas and they competed at this event! I was honored to get to present Richie one of his medals and be there when Mindy received one of her medals. I had grown up with these two individuals and now I had planned a competition for them to be able to showcase their abilities. Looking back, this was at the top of the list of one of the highlights of my career.

Fast forward to 1996 and there is an opening at the then “State Office” (now Headquarters) as the Special Events Coordinator. I had spent 5 years in Kansas City and decided it was time to try my hand at something new. I got the position and transferred to Jefferson City. I was trying to find my way, was missing my friends and family and had become good friends with the Brimer Family at the 1995 World Games. Gary Brimer was the Director of Sports and Training at that time. Gary would invite me to spend the weekends with his family and asked me if I wanted to coach the Unified® Basketball team that he had coached at the World Games because he couldn’t anymore due to his position with SOMO. I said sure, and that’s when my life took another turn.

With Brian, my husband

With Brian, my husband

There was this guy who started coming to basketball practice on Sunday evenings just to work out with the team. He had red hair, blue eyes, a great smile and nice legs. One thing led to another and we started dating. I wasn’t as happy in my new position because I really missed planning the sporting events for the athletes. Next thing I know I was engaged, and that’s when I decided maybe I wanted a job that was 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, so I decided to move on from SOMO. I got a job with the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA), married that red-haired, blue-eyed hunk, Brian Lutz, but still remained very involved as a volunteer with Special Olympics Missouri.
During what I like to call my three-year sabbatical, I was able to realize just how good I had it with SOMO. I gained new skills and really grew up at MSBA, but there was always something missing and that was the mission, the athletes and the people.

In 1999, the Northeast Area Director position opened up and my life took yet another turn when I had the tremendous opportunity to come back “home!” I started back with SOMO on August 16, 1999 and that very same day Brian and I found out we were expecting a baby!

Rachel and her SOMO basketball team

Rachel and her SOMO basketball team

Now 15 years later, I am the Sr. Director of Programs, still married to that hunk who has the same passion for SOMO, and we have a beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, who also shares the same passion and not because she has been going to events since she was in the womb! She truly loves working with the athletes and actually plans to become an early childhood special education teacher and maybe someday she will run the Young Athlete Program in Missouri!

Working for SOMO isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. I often tell people how fortunate I am to wake up every morning and say “Yes, I get to go to work!” I have met so many wonderful people and made so many lifelong friends.

With Danny Duvall

With Danny Duvall

Many athletes have touched my life beyond measure, like Richie Wallace, Mindy Oliver, Danny Duvall, Jared Niemeyer, Robb Eichelberger, Garrett Lawrence, Jamie Graham, Sarah Byland, Tina Jones, Shirlene Treadwell, Max Homer, Steve McKinney, Donzell Williams, Emily Carroll, Matt Cepeda, Arthur Murphy, Rodney Shoaf and Kristina Rhodes.

I have planned and organized events for the athletes to compete, trained athletes to do public speaking and had the pleasure of seeing them succeed in sports and in life.
I watched Jared Niemeyer run his first race and most recently beamed with pride as he was invited to the White House to celebrate what he has done to promote a world of inclusion, acceptance and respect. I own the very first children’s book that Jamie Graham wrote and illustrated. I cheered Robb Eichelberger onto a gold medal finish in tennis at the 2006 National Games, and now he serves on the SOMO Board of Directors. My one and only experience as a Unified partner in bowling was with my friend Shirlene Treadwell and when I couldn’t knock a single pin down, she was there to encourage me all the way. I remember how Danny Duvall would always give me a hug every time he saw me and the day he was inducted into the SOMO Hall of Fame, just weeks before he passed away after his battle with cancer.

With Jared Niemeyer

With Jared Niemeyer

I am one Kansas girl who is glad I followed the yellow brick road to Missouri 23 years ago. I found my “Emerald City” in SOMO and the great Wizard of SOMO, Mark Musso, who gave me a home in SOMO, not once, but twice and I am very fortunate to call my boss!

Along the way I met the good witch, Diannah White, who was my supervisor and mentor for many years. She is now the Executive Director of her church and is one of my dearest friends and role models.

Susan Stegeman is the not-so-cowardly lion who has the courage to lead the development team to raise the funds to support the more than 17,000 athletes in Missouri.

Mary Lou Hammann, is the brainy scarecrow who leads the operations team and is the brains behind our organization and making sure that we operate efficiently and with integrity.

Then there is the tinman, Gary Brimer, he is the heart of SOMO who has built the sports program to what it is today and has taught others to do the same.

While I may not own a pair of ruby red slippers like Dorothy, I can honestly say “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME!” Thank you for the past 20 years and I certainly look for forward to the years to come!

Love is universal

The two couples are right in front together. From left to right - Kelly Rebori and Aaron Raines, and Tony Mitchell and  Jennifer Neihouse.

The two couples are right in front together. From left to right – Kelly Rebori and Aaron Raines, and Tony Mitchell and Jennifer Neihouse.

It’s common to read about love stories and to see them portrayed on the big screen. However, Special Olympics Missouri coach Dawn Jones, has had the privilege of witnessing two love stories develop on and off the playing field.

Jones has previously coached athletes Tony Mitchell, Jennifer Neihouse, Aaron Raines and Kelly Rebori. She coached Mitchell, Neihouse, Raines and Rebori for more than four years.

Currently, Mitchell and Neihouse are an item as are Raines and Rebori.

Jennifer’s mother Dianna said, “Jennifer came home from kindergarten with a big crush on Tony and has always called him her boyfriend.”

Kelly’s mother Bridget said, “Kelly and Aaron first met each other thru the Down syndrome infant action meetings when Kelly was 2/12 & Aaron was a baby.  Then we lost contact until they meet up in school.  However, they really got to know each other in Junior High thru Special Olympics and then Kelly and Aaron both went to the same High School and became close buddies.”

It’s evident just how much the couples care for one another by the way they talk about each other.

Jennifer said, “Tony is sweet and kind and sometimes romantic.”

Kelly is equally appreciate of Aaron.  “I really like Aaron because he is so nice and is helping me if needed and cheers for me.”

But besides their current budding relationships, the four of them are really good friends as well.

“It has been great that they all get along so well,” Jones said.

Like many couples that are friends with one another, the girls enjoy spending time with one another even when their boyfriends aren’t around. Neihouse and Rebori have been friends since birth; therefore, it’s no surprise that they have as much fun separate from their boyfriends as they do just the two of them.

Jennifer Neihouse and Tony Mitchell pose for a photo together.

Jennifer Neihouse and Tony Mitchell pose for a photo together.

The couples do enjoy bowling, dances, movies, dinner and double dating with friends.

When asked, Dianna said, “They like just hanging out together. It doesn’t have to be typical dating (because) they are happy when they see each other at practice once or twice a week.”

Through it all, Jones said the athletes’ relationships have never been distracting. It was at different competitions that Jones recalls witnessing how “they really push each other to be better.”

“Tony and Jennifer both enjoy sports so much and are very competitive with each other,” Jones said. “There is no sitting back and cheering for Tony; Jennifer would rather be in there trying to beat him and this is fun for both of them. They will be tougher on each other than anyone else.”

Meanwhile, Raines and Rebori’s relationship could be described as less competitive. “Kelly is more of a doting girlfriend who likes to watch and cheer for Aaron and tell people that Aaron is her boyfriend,” Jones said. “Aaron likes to have Kelly in his cheering section whenever possible.”

A good example that also personifies Raines and Rebori’s relationship is how much Rebori enjoys “telling people about her strong boyfriend – (that) he competes in powerlifting,” Jones said.

Both couples are there for each other on and off the playing field.

“They are both very sweet and both really enjoy each other’s company,” Jones said.

“Both couples are fun and go with the flow making it all work with tons of parental involvement and support.”

As a parent, Dianna is thankful that her daughter and Mitchell have each other.

“We understand it is a relationship that not every person with special needs gets to experience. Jennifer has someone that puts a big smile on her face when he walks in the room, what parent doesn’t want that?”

Bridget is also thankful for the relationship that her daughter and Raines have.

“Kelly enjoys spending time with Aaron and it’s nice for her to have someone special to spend time with – especially when they can incorporate that into their activities and hanging with all their friends.  As it is with everyone, it’s nice to have a special friend that you can hang out with and know they will be there for you.”

In the end, the athletes’ relationships can be characterized by any other love story that one may read about or watch on the big screen. Love is universal and Special Olympics has been a platform for two (and many more) love stories and friendships to continue to grow over time.

Couple Vows to Go Over the Edge

It’s often common to see compassionate hearts from those who dedicate their careers to giving back to their communities and important causes.  Dr. Derrijk Hollon and Dr. Hilary Wendell of Hollon Family Chiropractic are no exception.

Hollon and Wendell are raising money for the second year in a row for Special OlympicsPhoto for OTE story Missouri’s fundraising event Over the Edge and both will be rappelling in Jefferson City.  The ways in which they’re raising funds are a testament to their compassion for their community as well as Special Olympics Missouri.

“We love using philanthropic promotions in our office.  For us, having a service partner is the best way for us to give back to a community that has given us so much,” said Wendell.

Wendell further explained how her and Hollon rely on their community in order to promote Special Olympics Missouri.

“Last fall, we provided new patient consultations, exams, x-rays, and report of findings for $60.  We then turned around and donated that $60 to Special Olympics and Over the Edge.  This promotion was such a huge success, especially when patients learned our very own Dr. Derrijk would be going Over the Edge.  We decided to bring the $60 initial visit promotion back again this year due to the tremendous response we had from it last year.”

The community involvement has allowed Hollon to give back to a cause that he holds near and dear to his heart.

Hollon explained just how much Special Olympics means to him.

“One of my best friends from growing up has Cerebral Palsy.  This condition left him severely handicapped and dependent on his parents.  My friend grew up watching me compete, and wanted to do so himself.  That’s when we found out about SOMO Track and Field (in the year of 2000), and after the first year we were hooked!  He spent all of his off-season training for his events.  It was amazing watching him fulfill his dream to compete just like me, and feel the trill of achievement through victory.”

By participating in Over the Edge, Hollon and Wendell were able to witness the thrill of achievement that Special Olympics provides for thousands of athletes just like Hollon’s friend.

“Last year’s Over the Edge event was so inspiring!” said Wendell.  “I was able to watch the SOMO athlete go Over the Edge and to see all the smiles both from him and his family was priceless!”

Participating in last year’s event also inspired Hollon.

“Even though it was pretty awesome to go Over the Edge myself, watching the SOMO athlete go over was my favorite part.  He had raised the funds himself and donated it to an organization that provides him so much,” said Hollon.

It’s evident how Hollon and Wendell are committed to promoting Special Olympics Missouri.  They have relied on their community for support and now they are relying on their family and friends.  They are so committed that they’ve decided to incorporate this year’s Over the Edge event into one of the most important days of their lives – their wedding day.  They will be rappelling on media/VIP day as their wedding party watches.

“We didn’t know when we set our wedding date that it was the same day as Over the Edge,” said Wendell.  “When we found out, instead of saying, ‘Oh, we’ll just participate in Over the Edge next year,’ we embraced it and made it a part of our wedding festivities.”

Both Hollon and Wendell are very excited.

“We are pumped to be a part of Over the Edge again this year,” said Hollon.  “I know our friends and family will love this event as much as we do.”

“Our friends and family can enjoy the event, learn about Special Olympics, and have a better understanding of why we love the Jefferson City and SOMO community so much,” said Wendell.

Dr. Derrijk Hollon and Dr. Hilary Wendell get to help the community in their everyday lives and thru that they are able to give back to causes they are passionate about.  Their zeal for helping the community is felt by community members, Special Olympics Missouri and more importantly the thousands of athletes that benefit from the organization.

The Missouri Knights of Columbus Annual Tootsie Roll Drive

The Knights of Columbus Missouri State Council announced a challenge to raise $1 million toward the development of a Special Olympics Missouri building project that will create the first-ever statewide athletic training campus designed especially for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The announcement came during a SOMO Champions luncheon at the Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo.

Special Olympics Missouri and the Knights of Columbus Missouri State Council have been partners for more than two decades. The Knights of Columbus have contributed significant financial and volunteer support to help individuals with intellectual disabilities through programs such as “Contest for Concern” and their annual Tootsie Roll drive.

Councils across the state will participate in raising the funds through new and existing revenue streams. One new avenue is through a partnership with Bob Evans restaurants. Beginning in July, on the second Thursday of each month, all 22 restaurants in Missouri will donate 15% of their sales all day to the Knights of Columbus Charities just by mentioning them. The Councils will also enhance their existing Tootsie Roll drive, which takes place each fall.

The $1 million in fundraising will bring the total amount pledged for Special Olympics Missouri’s planned Training for Life Campus to $4.3M. The 44,000 sq. ft. facility will be set in mid-Missouri and will host year-round training opportunities, health screenings and athletic competitions for its more than 17,000 athletes plus their coaches and volunteers from throughout the state.

“The endorsement and major investment by the Knights of Columbus for this initiative demonstrates the significant impression Special Olympics continues to have on Missouri citizens,” said Mark Musso, President and CEO of Special Olympics Missouri. “The Knights of Columbus are taking their role as partners with Special Olympics to the next level by supporting our efforts to create a dedicated campus for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.”

The Training for Life Campus will serve current and future generations of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and will be the largest such facility in scope in the United States. For more than 40 years, Special Olympics Missouri athletes, coaches and volunteers have not had their own place to train, compete and learn through the transformative power of sports.

“We are working diligently to plan the Training for Life Campus for the benefit of our athletes, coaches and volunteers,” says Gary Wilbers, Co-Chair of the Training for Life Campus capital campaign. “This vote of confidence from the Knights of Columbus Missouri State Council will help us keep the momentum we need to reach our goal of building a transformative place that will impact all of Missouri.”

Tax credits awarded by the MDFB will help toward the $12.5 million project. Special Olympics Missouri has earned the highest ratings from charity ratings services such as the Charity Navigator Four-Star rating and BBB A+ Charity Accreditation. The organization was also inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.

About the Training for Life Campus:

At the Training for Life Campus, Special Olympics Missouri will be able to expand important programs, such as its Young Athletes program for children ages 3-7 with intellectual disabilities, and Healthy Athletes®, an innovative program of free health screenings for older children and adults.

The campus is designed to accommodate training, practice and competitive events for some of SOMO’s most popular sports programs, including a track, tennis courts, softball field, wellness trail, soccer field, and multi-sport training areas. Indoor gymnasium and fitness facilities, as well as training and learning areas, will provide athletes and coaches with modern, accessible sporting facilities.

About Special Olympics Missouri:

Special Olympics Missouri is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 17,000 athletes participate in 21 Olympic-type sports throughout the state.  Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy as they participate in the sharing of gifts and friendship with their fellow athletes, their family and friends, and communities across Missouri.

Special Olympics Missouri is proud of our financial health, returning 90 percent of every dollar back to program services. We are privileged to be recognized with these honors: Better Business Bureau A+ Charity Accreditation, Charity Navigator 4-star rating and an inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame – Class of 2013.

Visit Special Olympics at www.somo.org. Engage with us on Twitter @somissouri; fb.com/specialolympicsmo.

About the Knights of Columbus:

The Knights of Columbus was formed to render financial aid to members and their families. Mutual aid and assistance are offered to sick, disabled and needy members and their families. Social and intellectual fellowship is promoted among members and their families through educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works. Learn more about the Knights of Columbus Missouri State Council at www.mokofc.org.

Summer Games moving to Springfield for 2015-2018

(Jefferson City) More than 2,200 athletes and coaches, along with family and friends from across Missouri will converge on Springfield May 29-31, 2015, for the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games. This will be the first of a four-year term in Springfield.

This is the first time a Special Olympics Missouri state event will be held in Springfield since the State Summer Games in 2011.

“Our past experiences with Springfield have been among the best in the state,” said Mark Musso, Special Olympics Missouri CEO/President. “The bids were very competitive but after the site visits it was obvious that the city of Springfield, Drury University, Missouri State University and the members of the Springfield Sports Commission and Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau are united and excited about bringing SOMO State Summer Games back to Springfield.”

Volleyball, athletics (track and field), aquatics, soccer and powerlifting are featured in the State Summer Games, which were previously held in Columbia from 2012-14. Competition will include traditional games, Unified Sports® (bringing together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities — people of similar age and athletic ability), team skills and individual skills.

“The Springfield Sports Commission, along with the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, Missouri State University and Drury University are incredibly honored that our city was awarded this contract for 2015-2018,” said Lance Kettering, Executive Director. “In addition to the competition, it is always exciting to see the spirit of the Special Olympics State Summer Games with the friendships that are formed by the athletes, volunteers, staff, sponsors and our community. We look forward to the next four years and our partnership with Special Olympics Missouri.”

The two local venues that will be used for the 2015-2018 State Summer Games are the campus of Missouri State University for volleyball, athletics, soccer and powerlifting and Drury University for aquatics.

Volunteers play an enormously important role in the success of this event. A Games Management Team is being formed to plan and organize the event during the months leading up to it. An estimated 1,500 volunteers will be needed for the actual running of the competition. There are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities available including fundraising, meal planning, special event planning, setup and more.

The event is expected to cost approximately $230,000. Sponsorships help underwrite the cost of the event and allow more opportunities for our athletes. For more information on volunteering or sponsorships, contact Trish Lutz at lutz@somo.org or call 573-635-1660.

2014 USA Games Team Missouri Newsletter — Post-games wrap-up

Post-games wrap-up newsletter

Now that we’ve hopefully all recovered from our trip to New Jersey, SOMO staff would like to formally congratulate and thank all of the athletes, coaches, Unified Partners and family members who made Team Missouri possible over the last year. It’s been an amazing ride that was over before we even knew it and one that we’re certainly proud to have been a part of.

We just had a few housekeeping notes to get out to all of you before we shut it all down on Team Missouri 2014.

 

Gary’s last note

I hardly know where to start as so many people involved in making this one of our greatest moments. I want to thank all of the parents who dedicated themselves to support us, from helping their athletes raise funds, to helping their athletes train, to transporting their athletes and others to practices and to being our fans at the games. And what wonderful fans we had at every venue. I know New Jersey will always remember “Show Me, Show Me, Show Me… MO, MO, MO!” You were awesome and so was our support from home. It was incredible and we thank you all.

Thanks to the coaches who dedicated themselves for the past year to prepare these athletes for the games, giving up their personal time to ensure that our athletes would do their very best. As I said in the last newsletter, Susan and I actually relaxed during the games and got to enjoy watching the athletes, because our coaches were so well prepared. They made sure every athlete took their medications got to bed and woke up on time and got them to their games on time as well. They washed clothes nearly every day and kept their money and personal belongings so they would not get lost and carried their credentials when they played. I was very proud to hear from our coaches how well they were prepared when compared to other states.

Our staff was exceptional. Johnathon making Walmart runs whenever it was needed and supporting the teams every day. Rachel Antal taking photos and assisting Brandon with writing up our daily newsletter and alerts. Brandon, who was everywhere, making sure that we had photos and video from each sport and staying up with Rachel to write the newsletter each night. What a great job they did of communicating our successes to everyone. Renee who took care of upset tummies, scrapes and bruises with all the care of a mother with her children. Tim, who drove the equipment to and from New Jersey for us and who ran errands as needed during the games. And most of all Susan Shaffer, the energizer bunny. I was almost blessed to have her and Genice lose their voices both at the same time — heaven! But I seriously could not have made it around without Susan. She went out early to prepare for our arrival and missed the send-off. We traveled to every venue and at times she was able to save me from collapsing by getting me a ride in a golf cart. What a great group to work with. I admire them all for how they dealt with all of our issues without complaint and had fun the entire time.

Above all I must recognize the athletes. They were phenomenal the entire trip. Never complaining, always smiling and enjoying every minute of every day no matter what the conditions. Whenever I would find myself wanting to curse a situation — believe me there were many — I would look at the example our athletes set and smile instead. At every turn our athletes made us proud. Whether they got the gold or finished with a ribbon they were proud and displayed their awards to everyone that would listen and pay attention. I was so very proud of all of them.

I must also thank Jennifer Rodvelt and Laurie Shadoan for the wonderful send-off they put together in St. Louis. It was awesome. And someone please thank all of the law enforcement officers for me. They made it special for all of us. On our arrival back in Missouri, we were treated to pizza and soda by board member Mr. and Mrs. Roger Gardner, which was arranged by Jennifer Brown. That was a so nice to have something to eat and drink, especially since we had not eaten since 4:30 a.m. And to all of our staff that supported us throughout the year, thank you. Those in the program that helped with arranging practices and those in development that helped with fundraisers and all the processing of the funds in the SOMO HQ Office.

I cannot forget Crystal Schuster. She made the week enjoyable for all of our families and fans in attendance by ensuring they were registered properly and getting all of the tons of information to them as soon as it came out. Thanks, Crystal for making this a great trip for our fans and for supporting us in the process.

Thank you all for making dreams come true. They did not give an award for the best sportsmanship of these games like they did in 2010 in Lincoln, but I’d bet my last dollar that the reason why is that they didn’t want to give it to Special Olympics Missouri two times in a row!

Team Missouri video

Wanting to relive all of your moments of glory on the field of competition? Be sure to check out (and share!) the Team Missouri 2014 video here.

 

Share your USA Games stories!

Now that the 2014 USA Games are over and done with, SOI wants to hear your stories from the Games, so be sure to log onto http:///www.specialolympics.org/share/ and tell your story about how you competed, traveled with the team or even followed along from home. It’s really quick and easy to do!

 

USA Games photos/videos

Just a friendly reminder that if you’re looking for USA Games photos, please be sure to check out our Flickr account. While there you will be able to download any high-resolution photos you may like. In addition to the ones Rachel and Brandon took throughout the week, there are also plenty of photos that the USA Games communications team took so be sure to check them out! Also don’t forget that some of our talented athletes took their turn with the GoPro last week and we uploaded their videos to our YouTube channel, so go check them out!

 

Mobile app

We hope that those of you who used our mobile app found it useful regardless of whether you were on site following the team or wanted to stay up to date back home. If you could be so kind as to take part in a really quick survey about the mobile app on the website, it would really help us figure out how to best serve our athletes and families moving forward. Thank you!

 

Text message alerts from USA Games

This message comes straight from the USA Games Healthy Athletes organizers, so please read:

The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Program is trying to ensure that athletes who need follow up care from Healthy Athletes examinations are getting the care they need following HA. One way we are trying to do this is to follow up with athletes who received referrals from HA by sending them or their caregivers a text message after the event to remind them of the referral they received.

At USA Games, we asked athletes and their caregivers at Opening Eyes and Special Smiles if they would like to receive text messages from Special Olympics to remind them if they needed to seek further care after the Games. Next week, we will send text messages to athletes who had referrals at Opening Eyes or Special Smiles and opted in to receive text messages.

The messages will look like this:

Hi, Robyn. At Special Olympics USA Games, we asked you to see a dentist for treatment. Text back 1 if you made a dental appointment. Text back 2 if you did not.

Based on the response, there are subsequent messages that will go to the athletes in hopes this will prompt them to see a doctor/dentist.

The USA Games GOC is in the early stages of trying out this text message service and will use results and feedback from this pilot at the USA Games to continue to develop a system so eventually more SO Programs can use this service.

 

Donate to future Team Missouri delegates

Special Olympics Missouri athletes train year-round for sports competitions. With training and competitions in 21 Olympic-style sports, our athletes push hard and play harder. They strive to beat their personal bests, defying the odds again and again. From the local ballfields to the shining stage of the USA Games, from swimming to basketball, our athletes showcase the talents and triumphs of people with intellectual disabilities. You can be part of this exciting program, too.

Please donate to the training of Team Missouri athletes now and into the future by becoming a Team Missouri donor. You can donate online at https://somo.org/team-missouri-donors or by mailing your donation to: Special Olympics Missouri – Team Missouri, 1001 Diamond Ridge, Suite 800, Jefferson City, MO 65109.