Help us put on our biggest sporting event of the year!

With more than 200 sporting events across the state each year, one thing Special Olympics Missouri knows well is that we would not exist without volunteers. More than 30,000 individuals give their time, expertise, manpower, and encouragement to the SOMO athletes each year. And right now we are on the cusp of our signature event, the event that makes people ask “When are the Special Olympics this year?” when in reality, “the” Special Olympics is a year-round program offering training and competition. You know, I’m talking about the State Summer Games May 29 – June 1 in Columbia.

This year is particularly special for us, because we have made some major changes to our sports competition schedule and are adding some new sports to the State Summer Games and welcoming more athletes than ever before to this special event. Where better to host this bigger and better State Summer Games than Mizzou?! The University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Town & Country Lanes will be hosting our competitions, and we’re thrilled to offer our athletes world-class facilities to showcase their abilities.

There are always challenges when it comes to change, and the one YOU can help us with is our volunteer needs. In the past, we had around 1,200 volunteer positions to fill, but with the new competitions, extra days of activities and additional athletes, we’re looking to fill more than 1,500 volunteer positions. Here are some examples of the jobs we have available; you can find the complete list here.

  • Track & Field running events volunteer: help as a timer, finish line holder, picker (you are responsible for finding the person who crossed the finish line 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, etc).
  • Basketball scorekeeper/timekeeper: help keep the scorebook, scoreboard, or managing the time clock.
  • Opening Ceremonies setup crew: help set up equipment, decorations, chairs, and more to put on a rockin’ Opening Ceremony!

All of our jobs are open to the general public. We love to have corporate groups, student groups, families, or groups of friends come, but you can volunteer all on your own as well. There are dozens of types of positions, and no sports experience is necessary – we offer training on site. In exchange for your help, you will walk away with a volunteer T-shirt (sizes subject to availability), and an experience you’ll be talking about for weeks. Come witness the courage, strength, and talent of thousands of Special Olympics athletes. Sign up today.

Volunteers, fans and teams staying off campus can park in the CG1 lot or the RP10 lot and use our free shuttle bus service! Cars and vans for teams staying on campus may park in their residence hall lot. Please park on the west side of the lot at bowling.

Here are a few other resources you might find helpful:

Special thanks to our sponsors this year: Shop ‘n Save, Law Enforcement Torch Run, Knights of Columbus, Southwest Dairy Farmers, Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau, Zimmer Radio Group, Columbia Missourian, Levy Restaurant, Mid-America Wireless, Town & Country Lanes and Break Time.

A Community of Families

Connie Dewey and her daughter, Leanna Krogmann, at the 2011 World Games in Athens, Greece. Leanna competed in aquatics.

Special Olympics is incredibly important to our family.  Our daughter, Leanna Krogmann, has been involved since 2004 and truly enjoys all of the sports and social activities she is involved with.  She participated in National Games in 2006 and again in 2010, and then was selected to be on Team USA for the World Games in Athens, Greece in 2011.  She was also chosen to go to Washington, D.C. to request congressional support for Special Olympics.  We have attended all of these events with her and enjoyed watching her develop leadership qualities.  These experiences have enriched her life and ours beyond measure!

The most important benefits we receive as a family are the relationships we have been able to build with other families who have similar situations and obstacles to overcome.  We appreciate the strong social support we have received from these families and particularly the volunteers and employees of Special Olympics.  Without these relationships, Leanna’s social and emotional well-being would be diminished. 

Special Olympics sports and activities have provided Leanna with an avenue for her to make friends, be physically active, and develop into a well-rounded young woman.  She has gained knowledge about her health, herself, and has grown in confidence.  This confidence has supported her in social interactions in a variety of setting, such as church, and in the work place.  The amount of growth we have seen since her initial involvement in Special Olympics is remarkable. 

I would like to personally thank everyone who supports Special Olympics and truly want them to know the difference this organization has made in our lives.  We are truly blessed!

Connie & Dennis Dewey (parents)
Emily (sister) & Mark Hoger

The Power of Friendship

This post was originally published on the Special Olympics Project UNIFY blog.

William and Emily of Special Olympics Missouri know firsthand the true power of unified sports — friendship!
 
My name is William Reese, I am 16 and am a partner with Special Olympics at my school, Warrenton High School in Warrenton, Missouri.
 
What I really like about Unified Sports are all the opportunities I have been given.  I am a member of the Youth Activation Committee (YAC) and through YAC I have done a lot of awesome things.  We have had a lot of training on promoting unified sports and how to promote it in our school.  I have been able to go to Mizzou and promote Spreading the Word to End the Word. I am going this summer to volunteer at sports camp and in just two weeks I am going with my friend Emily Carroll and some other people to Denver Colorado for a Unified Sports workshop.
 
Through all of the things I have had the opportunity to do with Unified Sports, the most important are the friendships I have been able to build.  I have met Emily and we team up a lot for YAC events, and when she gets nervous, I am there to help her.
 
Being a leader
This last weekend at a unified basketball game we played a team that was younger than our high school team, so we did not play as aggressively as we normally would.  All of the partners were able to talk with our teammates about why we were not going to play as aggressively as we usually do. You could see how much it meant to the athletes on the other team and it was a great feeling, every time the other team scored we cheered just like with our own teammates!  As partner we were there to lead our teammates, but the athletes were also given the opportunity to be leaders.  Being a part of Special Olympics Unified Sports really teaches you to be a true team player!
 
My friend Emily
My friend Emily Carroll is 15 and has been a Special Olympics athlete at in our school district since she was 8.  What Emily likes about Special Olympics Unified Sports are “all of my friends.”  Emily is a member of YAC and she was really excited about going to Mizzou to promote Spread the Word to End the Word, what she really liked was “spending the day with James Franklin, her friend.”  James is a first string quarterback for Mizzou and he was there volunteering his time!
 
Emily has made a lot of friends through unified sports and she has become much more outgoing, I see her coming out of her shell more all the time!  She even went to the Torch Run Kickoff Conference a few months ago to introduce some speakers.  When I heard Emily was going to do this I was amazed because she gets so nervous, but she did an amazing job!
 
The end that is not the end…
Emily and I both really enjoy unified sports, it has changed us both so much and it is something we will both be participating in for a really long time!

New Sports Calendar Offers Increased Competition Opportunities

If you participate in bowling, you’ve probably already realized that our sports calendar is undergoing some changes. Starting in this year, SOMO will offer two state events, State Summer Games and State Fall Games, plus new district- and regional-level events. Our plan is that the new levels of competition will allow more opportunities for athletes to compete with less travel. In addition, our state events will be expanded to offer more chances for our athletes to receive health screenings and socialize with friends across the state.

With the rising cost of gas and increasingly busier schedules, we sometimes have teams opt out of state events to save money and/or time. We wanted to create new opportunities for our athletes to compete closer to home. Adding district- and regional-level events will not only satisfy that need, but it will also bring the magic of Special Olympics to additional communities.

So, what are the new events? Click here for a visual breakdown.

  • We have added two district bowling competitions in March. Any athlete who competed at the area level may advance to districts. Athletes from Northwest, KC Metro, Southwest, Central, and Northeast areas will compete in St. Joseph March 2-3. Athletes from St. Louis Metro, Southeast, Northeast, and Central areas will compete in St. Charles March 17-18. A coach may request permission from their Area Director to attend the competition opposite to which they are assigned. These events will include an overnight stay for out-of-area teams. Athletes must earn a gold or silver medal to advance from districts to state. State competition in bowling will now take place during State Summer Games.
  • We have also added two regional basketball competitions in March. As it has been in the past, any athlete who competed at the area level in basketball may advance to districts, and they must earn a gold or silver at districts to advance to regionals. Teams from KC Metro, Northwest, Southwest, Central, and Northeast areas will compete at North Kansas City and Park Hill schools March 24. Teams from St. Louis Metro, Southeast, Northeast and Central areas will compete in Wentzville March 31. A coach may request permission from their Area Director to attend the competition opposite to which they are assigned. These events will include an overnight stay for out-of-area teams. Athletes must earn a gold medal at regionals to advance to state. State competition in basketball will now take place during State Summer Games.
  • If the number of softball teams continues to grow, we may add regional softball competition in 2013. This year, any teams who compete at the area tournament may advance to districts. Teams must earn a gold or silver medal at districts to advance to State Fall Games.

Athletes may participate in all sports up until state competition. Athletes will be allowed to compete in one individual sport and one team sport at the state level. The same goes for coaches. Click here for a visual illustration of how athletes can advance through each sport.

Here’s how the sports fit in at the two state events:

State Summer Games: Columbia, May 29 – June 1, including aquatics, athletics, basketball, bowling, powerlifting and volleyball.

State Fall Games: Cape Girardeau, October 11 – 14, including bocce, flag football, golf, soccer, softball, and tennis. 

You’ll notice volleyball competition has been moved to State Summer Games, which means area competition will now take place in April. Bocce and soccer competition have been moved to State Fall Games, which means area tournaments will be held between June and October. Golf, softball and tennis competitions may be adjusted slightly from previous years to allow for state competition in October.

Each sport will be evaluated at the end of each sports season to determine if we need to realign sports in an effort to continue to grow and maintain participation in the current sports. The numbers will be evaluated and compared to the average participation between the competition years of 2008-2013.

Competitions at the local, area, district and regional levels will remain FREE of charge for the athletes. state, national and world games will continue to be an opportunity for athletes and teams/agencies to raise money at the grass roots level. The cost per athlete to attend state games in 2012 is $50. Since housing is one of our largest expenses, teams may choose not to stay in the provided lodging and receive a 50% discount per athlete ($25). 

We hope you will enjoy the new opportunities this year. Check out our FAQ document for additional details. If any of your questions have not been answered, please leave them in the comments below.

Raising Brooke

Michael Myers is an officer with the St. Charles Police Department, and he is the father to SOMO athlete Brooke.

I was provided with the opportunity to speak at the 2011 Law Enforcement Torch Run kickoff event for Special Olympics. For those of you that are not familiar with LETR, police officers around the world raise money through various events throughout the year for Special Olympics. This would not be possible without the support of police chiefs and sheriffs around the globe. I was invited to speak because my 15-year-old daughter, Brooke, is a Special Olympics athlete, and I happen to be a police officer. I was invited to share our story. The following is a summary of that presentation:

Brooke was born on April 23, 1996. When she was born, we were told congratulations, you have a healthy baby girl. Less than 48 hours later, we were approached by some of the physicians who suggested that Brooke may have Down syndrome and would like our permission to test her. These doctors were the enemy, having informed us of the possibility of something that no parent wants to hear. We gave permission and began the task of waiting for the results. Two weeks later we received a telephone call letting us know that Brooke did in fact have Down syndrome.

Our initial reaction was similar to others that I have met when they learned their child was diagnosed with any type of special needs. The first thoughts were about all of the things that she would not be able to do; like get married, or go to college, or drive a car. We quickly learned to focus on what she can do and not, what she can’t do. The truth is that there are more similarities between people with special needs and typical people than there are differences.

When Brooke was about four months old, we learned that she needed open heart surgery to repair several holes in her heart. Despite the fact that we were angry at the doctors that told us about her having Down syndrome because they were the messenger, it was a blessing in disguise. About half of children born with Down syndrome have some type of heart defect. We would not have discovered this had it not been for the tests that were performed because of her diagnosis.

One of the most difficult things that we have ever had to do as parents was to turn our six month old child over to complete strangers and trust them with her life. The wait in the waiting room was unbearable, but you do learn that there is always someone out there that has it worse than you. Overall the surgery was a success, but we did learn that she would need another surgery in the future. That time arrived a year and one half later.

The surgery was done to repair her mitral valve. The challenge was whether or not the surgeon would be able to repair the valve or replace it. If he was unable to repair it, there would have been additional surgeries as she grew. Fortunately, he was able to repair her valve, and almost 14 years later she is doing great.

It is said that God does not give you anything you can’t handle. We have since had two boys that have each challenged that concept. That is another way that Brooke has been treated just like a typical child. Her brothers don’t give her any slack and constantly bother her like any brothers would to their sister.

Aside from the medical issues, the early years of Brooke’s life were not that much different from any other child. She attended the same day care as typical kids and participated in sporting events, such as T-ball. Kids with intellectual disabilities eat, sleep, cry and poop, just like all of the other kids.

She made a lot of friends who invited her to all of the birthday parties and invited her to play with them. This continued until about the beginning of middle school. This was the time that the intellectual differences between her and typical kids began to show. It was not that the other children stopped being nice to her, but the invitations stopped coming. The typical kids, with a few exceptions really didn’t know how to relate to her anymore.

Seeing this change developing, my wife got Brooke involved with Special Olympics. She could see that she needed something more. Her younger brother was beginning to participate in various sports. From the very beginning, Brooke was welcomed and encouraged. It was not long before Brooke was earning medals in various sports. You could see the improvement in her athletic ability with time, and you could see the confidence increase.

For many of the athletes involved in Special Olympics, this is the only time that people talk to them at all. Many people with intellectual disabilities go all day without being spoken to at all.

Of the many things that can’t be measured in medals are the relationships that have been built with Brooke and other athletes, as well as, between our family and other families. A benefit that we didn’t even realize in the beginning was the benefit of meeting other families that were facing similar challenges that we were facing.

Special Olympics also provided an avenue for some of Brooke’s typical friends to socialize with her. Brooke participates in Unified basketball, which allows for her typical friends to play on the team alongside the athletes with intellectual disabilities. This relationship allows for the athletes to model the behavior of their typical peers. The experience will also stay with the typical athletes for their entire lives.

This year, Brooke has been more involved in the activities that support Special Olympics. She ran the torch into Ameristar Casino for the St. Charles leg of the Torch Run and appeared on a billboard in St. Louis with Rams player Robert Quinn and another athlete. She really enjoyed participating in all of the activities this year.

We all entered law enforcement for the same reason; to help those who cannot help themselves. Sometimes the administrative work and paperwork overshadow what we are really supposed to be doing. We all face the same issue as it relates to manpower, but we always find time to listen to the mayor, counsel people, alderman, and citizens that want to be that squeaky wheel. Just because it’s not squeaking does not mean that it doesn’t need oil.

People with intellectual disabilities are part of our communities as well. In fact, depending on who you are talking to, there are between 200,000,000 and 300,000,000 people in the world with intellectual disabilities. Unless you live in a city with less than 25 people, you have citizens that have intellectual disabilities in your community.

In closing, I want to thank all of you for allowing my family to share some of our life with you. I hope in some way our story helps to motivate those that are already involved to work harder, or inspire some to get involved. I want to thank all of the officers and the administrators that allow them some time for their fundraising efforts. For those of you that are not involved, I encourage you to go back to your departments and begin now. You don’t have to raise a large amount of money to be part of this movement. I just ask that you get involved because this is your community.

Looking Back: 1978 Softball Tournament

Gary Brimer is the Chief Sports Officer for SOMO. He has been on staff for 17 years. Prior to that, he was a volunteer area director and a coach. He can be reached at brimer@somo.org. This post is part of a series of posts that look back on SOMO’s 40-year history.

I remember the first-ever Special Olympics Softball Tournament held in Missouri. It was the summer of 1978 in the middle of July in Hannibal. We had received a letter asking us if we were interested in playing in a Special Olympics Softball Tournament. Softball wasn’t even an official sport in Missouri Special Olympics, but of course our team was ready to play anything, so we began practicing.

I still wonder how I ever made it through those early years. Only a handful of the kids had their own gloves. Most had never even held a bat. Asking them to throw a ball was out of the question. But they wanted to play, so we worked twice week for as long as I could stand it.

And so we traveled the nearly three hours to Hannibal in three vehicles full of some of the most obnoxious, loud, wonderful, hilarious and loving kids. It was hot and we were ever so glad to arrive at our designated housing for the next two nights, until we found out where we were staying.

It had been arranged for all of the teams to stay in a primitive Boy Scout camp. There we stayed in log cabins with no electricity and only one source of running water in the entire campground.

The kids were thrilled. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs cooked over a wood fire, with chips and sodas. Later on we had s’mores. It was fun until we had to go bed. We only had one flashlight, and as I said this place was very primitive. After I had walked all of the groups to their cabins, because they would ONLY go with me in case of a bear attack, I finally walked my group to their cabin.

We spent half the night answering questions about each sound that was heard or that they thought they heard and the other half of the night walking someone to the bathroom, which was the nearest tree or bush.

Finally, morning arrived and we ate cold cereal with milk for breakfast. Then it was time to play. I think there were five teams that ended up playing that first year. There were no divisions, we just played each other. I think we played three games that first day and I know we won all of them.

That night we had McDonald’s hamburgers and fries with orange drink. The fries were cold and limp and the burgers were four hours old, but they were free. The worst part was going back to the cabins with a bunch of stinky kids and no showers. The best part was that they were too tired to worry about noises, but we still had to walk them into the woods to go to the bathroom.

The next morning we had more cold cereal and milk and back to the field. We won our last game and then had to play in the championship. The team we were to play had been our toughest competition and they had not yet played that day.

We won by few runs, but the biggest excitement was the triple play we turned that took what seemed like 15 minutes.

With runners on first and second and no outs, our shortstop caught a fly ball (1 out), but both runners took off on the hit and the batter ran to first. The shortstop ran over and tagged the runner at third (2 outs) and then threw the ball back to our pitcher. I immediately yelled for our pitcher to throw the ball to first base.

Of course the other coach was yelling at his player on second to return to first. And all the while I begged and pleaded with our pitcher to throw the ball to first to no avail. Finally I asked why she wouldn’t throw it to first, and amidst all of the uproar, she told me that I had not told her why she should throw it to first. So, of course I began to explain it to her. Finally she understood and threw the ball to first, while the poor runner at second just stood there so proud for advancing, and we completed a triple play.

Later, after receiving our trophy, our athletes decided they were going to try playing softball again maybe, as long as it wasn’t so hot. And then we drove home with the stinkiest bunch of kids I have ever been with, but they were also the happiest.

Promoting Health Beyond Sports

Diannah White is the Chief Communications Officer for SOMO. She has worked here 17 years and can be reached at dwhite@somo.org. This post is part of a series of posts that look back on SOMO’s 40-year history.

Excellence in life and in sports depends on good health. In Special Olympics, we take this very seriously. 

The Special Olympics movement was founded on a mission to provide sports training and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Our vision goes beyond the sports field and into improving the quality of life of our athletes. We’ve seen research that shows participation in our program leads to better performance at school, work and home. Now we know we can affect their health as well.

The doctors found that William was nearly legally blind. His eyesight was so bad that to improve his vision, he would need three different prescriptions, each one stronger than the other before he would be able to see correctly.”

Special Olympics, Inc. commissioned a Special Report on the Health Status and Needs of Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities. The report identified areas that, if made available, could improve the quality and length of life for Special Olympics athletes. The findings showed that as few as 30% of patients with intellectual disabilities receive care from medical specialists, even though it is estimated 92% of them need specialty care related to eyesight, oral health and heart disease.

Special Olympics, Inc. came up with a solution: Healthy Athletes was launched in 1996 as a means to promote better health for our athletes and bring attention to the lack of health care for those with intellectual disabilities.

Here at home, with the prompting of then-board chair Naomi Cupp of Columbia, we began offering Healthy Athlete initiatives in 2003. Since SOMO began offering the screenings, 541 dentists, hygienists, optometrists, opticians, audiologists, physical therapists, nurses and physical therapy assistants from all over Missouri have donated their time.

The Healthy Athlete disciplines we offer in Missouri include:

Special Smiles is a dental screening to detect cavities and other oral health issues. In 2010, 20% of athletes going through Special Smiles needed follow-up care because of pain or decay. In contrast, slightly more than 2% of all US employed adults reported that their last trip to the dentist was because of pain of a toothache. This initiative is made possible by the Missouri Dental Association.

One of the questions that the volunteer dentists ask each athlete is who their dentist is. More often than not they hear, “You are.” This is the only dental screening many of our athletes will get due to financial restrictions.

FunFitness is a screening to assess and improve flexibility, strength and balance. Athletes are moved through a variety of stations all run by volunteer physical therapists from the MO Physical Therapy Association. Athletes take exercise ideas home with them to incorporate into their training.

Health Promotion is a screening which looks at the overall health of the athlete. We own our own bone density machine to check for early stages of osteoporosis. As well, this discipline checks BMI and provides education on nutrition and sun safety. On average, 60% of our athletes are identified as obese and receive education to improve their diet.

Healthy Hearing is relatively new to our offerings but it has fast become a huge asset. Athletes receive a hearing test by trained audiologists. As may as 28% failed their hearing tests in 2011. This program is led by the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Missouri State University.

Opening Eyes is the most comprehensive screening we offer. This entire program is done in cooperation with Lions Club International. Coordinated by the Missouri Optometric Association, this is a complete vision screening like you would receive at a doctor’s office.

On average, 43% of SOMO athletes who have been through our Opening Eyes vision screening over the past eight years have needed and received a new or updated prescription and free eyewear. Athletes who don’t need prescription eyeglasses all get to take a free pair of designer sunglasses.

We have seen the most dramatic success with this program. William Johnson, an outfielder from Kansas City, is living proof. William would look one way and throw the ball the other way. His coach took him through our very first Opening Eyes screening. The doctors found that William was nearly legally blind. His eyesight was so bad that to improve his vision, he would need three different prescriptions, each one stronger than the other before he would be able to see correctly. Through the Opening Eyes program, he got three pairs of glasses and now when he looks one way he can also throw that way!

Fit Feet is a free podiatric screening for participating Special Olympics athletes evaluating ankles, feet, lower extremity biomechanics, and proper shoe and sock gear. We hope to host our first screening at our 2012 Summer Games.

As an added bonus, every $1 spent for Healthy Athlete Programs returns $5 in pro-bono services thanks to the great partnerships with health care professionals.  These screenings are provided through partnerships with licensed healthcare professionals at the Missouri Optometric Association, Missouri Dental Association, Missouri Physical Therapy Association and others. Special Olympics serves as the largest provider of health screenings in the world. 

We take the health of our athletes very seriously. Consider ways you can support Healthy Athletes. Professional healthcare volunteers are always needed as is funding of offset the costs to offer the screenings.

Why Special Olympics?

Randy Reddick is Senior Vice President of Operations at Shop ‘n Save, one of SOMO’s biggest supporters. Randy has volunteered for several years and also serves on our Board of Directors.

One of my earliest memories of our involvement with Special Olympics was in 1999 when SOMO Board Member Dave Pudlowski approached SHOP ‘n SAVE with a routine request. Dave asked if we would agree to sell the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) T-shirt in our stores. Such a request was common for a retailer with multiple locations and fit well with our company’s desire to support those in law enforcement, while increasing our level of community involvement. However, the response from both customers and associates was unlike any fundraiser we had ever promoted.

Randy Reddick, second from left, first got involved with SOMO through the Law Enforcement Torch Run

The Torch Run campaign generated not only sales, but a heightened awareness of Special Olympics’ mission to provide year-round athletic competition for their athletes. The extraordinary success of the T-shirt promotion led to a discussion of future events that would benefit from the collective efforts of law enforcement, SOMO, and SHOP ‘n SAVE. Beginning with annual events such as the Polar Plunge and St. Louis Metro Area Spring Games, SHOP ‘n SAVE associates demonstrated their commitment and enthusiasm by participating in multiple events each year. The Trivia Night introduced in 2009 attracted over 600 SHOP ‘n SAVE associates who raised $35,000 in donations. With over 200 volunteers participating, some SHOP ‘n SAVE sponsored events have surpassed even those of the St. Louis Metro Area, with this year’s car raffle sales setting a new record of $46,000 in donations. Raising over $300,000 in 2001, the annual St. Louis Golf Classic is now one of the largest golf tournaments in the region.

Today, Shop 'n Save is one of SOMO's biggest supporters.

While SHOP ‘n SAVE has been an ardent supporter of Special Olympics through its fundraising efforts, it is the spirit of the “volunteer” that truly makes the difference in our commitment. Our SHOP ‘n SAVE associates look forward to these annual events and take pride in knowing that they are supporting the athletes’ ability to experience the excitement of training and competing in a sport that they enjoy. Special Olympics volunteers stand apart, exhibiting humility and energy for the mission, as they focus on what is best for the athletes.

Therefore, our answer to the question: “Why Special Olympics?” is crystal clear.

I can think of no greater group to support than the athletes, who appreciate the opportunities afforded them and demonstrate the will to succeed. They handle both winning and disappointment with a dignity that should be modeled in all competitive sports. The evolving partnership between SOMO and SHOP ‘n SAVE has provided our associates the experience of both “a volunteer and a fan.” As a result, the spirit of Special Olympics is embedded within our culture and the lives of those who volunteer.

My Brother, Tanner

Katie Hrenchir is the Northwest Associate Area Director and proud sister of SOMO athlete Tanner. She can be reached at hrenchir@somo.org.

My special brother, Tanner, was born with Down syndrome 29 years ago. Back then, doctors did not know as much as they do now about Down syndrome. It was still a very foreign disability to most. When Tanner came into this world on March 4, 1982, my parents held their baby boy for the first time. Seeing him, they knew he was different, but they loved him all the same. They still had the same dreams for him and couldn’t wait to share this bundle of joy with their friends and family. That is when their dreams seemed unravel.

My parents have told me stories of what the doctors told them when Tanner was born. These stories hurt me to the core because of the negativity streaming from the doctors about my brother. As my parents were cradling Tanner, the doctors told them everything he would NOT be able to do in life. They told them he probably wouldn’t walk or talk. They told them “Don’t expect much out of him.” That line hurts the most. That line seems as if they were treating my older brother as a thing, not as a person. Then they stated that he would be better off in an institution. My wonderful parents, full of faith and expectations for Tanner, did not listen.

They were very scared, angry and sad at first. They had nowhere to turn. The doctors and hospital gave them no advice or any places to turn to for support. They knew they would have to do this on their own. They turned to family and friends, who immediately accepted Tanner (who in my opinion was one of the most adorable babies to grace this Earth). Tanner was such a loving, sweet and happy baby. He had everything to give and more.

When he was old enough, my parents found therapy and speech classes to enroll Tanner in. He started growing and succeeding! He was already surpassing all of the doctors’ expectations and hurtful words.

Then, at age 10, my parents enrolled Tanner into Special Olympics Missouri. Our lives have NEVER been the same. From Tanner’s first-ever bowling practice, to the 2010 National Games, to the present … the Hrenchir family will always call Special Olympics Missouri home.

Special Olympics Missouri has given my brother so much. This program has given him hope, happiness, joy, confidence, determination, and most importantly … acceptance. This program has shown Tanner that ANYTHING is possible. It has shown him that dreams really do come true. Through this program, Tanner has traveled, Tanner has competed, and Tanner has gained lifelong friends.

In school, it wasn’t always easy for Tanner or me growing up. Having a sibling with special needs can be very hard. It is something very hard to explain to others. When his peers would make fun of him, I always felt I needed to step in and stand up for him. Back then I didn’t always have the support I needed as his younger sister, and people with disabilities were still trying to be accepted in this society. I was always looking out for Tanner and felt as if I had to protect him all the time. There were some peers that were very fond of Tanner, but of course there will always be bullies in every school, and we had our fair share of those experiences.

The great thing about Special Olympics is that Tanner is always accepted by everyone. There is no bullying. When Tanner enters a gym for SOMO practice or a field for a SOMO flag football tournament he knows he is HOME. He knows everyone there is his friend, he knows they will all be on his side, he knows they will all include and accept him.

Unified Sports has also been great for Tanner. Being that his peers in school did not always accept him, having Unified Partners on the field with Tanner really makes a huge difference. Seeing that all youth are on his side now is incredible. It is a great feeling to know that Special Olympics Missouri is educating all youth that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to be accepted and included too. This is a program I would have loved to be involved with when we were younger. However, I am so happy it is in full swing now throughout the whole state of Missouri.

Special Olympics has not only helped Tanner, it has helped our whole family. Seeing Tanner in his daily struggles and witnessing people bully him was so hard to endure. Through Special Olympics, my family has found happiness and so much joy. We were given a program that Tanner could succeed in. We were given a program where we could watch Tanner grow and be happy. That is all we could ask for. Our family has met other families who have gone through the same struggles. It has been so nice to be able to network and communicate with other families who share our joy, pain, successes and struggles. Together, the families of Special Olympics Missouri have a bond that can’t be explained. We can relate to each other. We can see that this program has worked wonders in our loved ones’ lives and our lives as well.

I now work for Special Olympics Missouri. It is dream job that was meant for me. This job was just waiting for the right time to appear on my plate. I now get to plan and coordinate sporting events for my brother and the other 862 Special Olympics Missouri athletes in the northwest part of Missouri and couldn’t ask for a more satisfying job.

For anyone who donates their time and/or funds to our special program, please know that you are making a difference in so many lives. Not just the lives of our athletes, but their families and friends as well. Special Olympics has a snowball affect. If you help out once, you have touched many lives, which in turn touches more lives when you aren’t even looking. As a sibling of a Special Olympics Missouri athlete I can say that anyone who volunteers at our events and gives Tanner a high five or a “good job” touches my heart as well.

Special Olympics Missouri is a life-changing program, and the Hrenchir family is proof of that.

Making a Difference One School at a Time

Rachel Antal is a freshman at the University of Central Missouri. She is a SOMO volunteer and president of our Youth Activation Committee.

Special Olympics is the only place I know where you can meet someone and then the next day be joking around and feel just like a family. When I was introduced to the rest of the Youth Activation Committee (YAC), that is exactly what it felt like. We’re a small group of teenagers who all share the same passion of unifying their schools between those with intellectual disabilities and those without and just making our communities a little bit better.

I was raised around Special Olympics my whole life, attending events as soon as I was born. Everyone in my small school knew how I felt about it and they didn’t question it. In high school, I was involved in clubs like Student Council and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. I didn’t realize how sheltered some people were when it came to those different from them. There were several Special Olympics athletes in my high school and some people weren’t sure how to react. To me it was no big deal when Josh wanted to give a hug or when the others would come up to me in the hallway, but to others it was strange. Since I was the president of FCCLA my senior year, I made it my goal to start the Spread the Word to End the Word program. I made signs and announcements over the intercom but some people didn’t accept it. My friends and many people in the school stopped using the word and by the end of the year everyone was talking to Josh, Tyler and the other athletes making them feel more comfortable in the school. It was hard to raise awareness about the “r-word” but every now and then someone will write me on Facebook and tell me about how they find themselves telling others to stop using it. This makes me feel good because if I got one person to stop using it, I have made a difference. I got members of the student council to take the Polar Plunge with me. Even though there were only 8 others on my team besides myself, we still raised over $800 all together.

Now I am in my freshman year of college at the University of Central Missouri. I have been given the challenge of spreading the word all over again because this time it’s worse. Not only do students use it but also teachers. I am also the YAC president this year, which has given me so much positivity to approach people and open up their eyes to those with intellectual disabilities. My friends here have already started removing the r-word from their vocabulary but it’s the teachers and the other students that will be tricky. Recently I attended the South Central Conference for the Youth Activation Summit, which gave me a whole new outlook on why I want to unify my college so much. Jenny Newbury from Get Into It spoke to us and she gave an example by handing us each a card from the deck. She then said a random card and that person had to face away, then the next had to put their head down and so on. At the end of it she said we wouldn’t do this to people for no reason so why do we judge those different then us for no reason. During that weekend I got to grow with my YAC family and I never wanted to leave them. It makes me sad that everyone can’t experience the love that I do with Special Olympics.

I am so thankful for being a YAC member and working with the rest of my committee to change our schools. Special Olympics has given me a place to feel included and a family that I would never trade. The athletes inspire to keep a positive attitude everyday and to continue to unify.