2014 USA Games Team Missouri newsletter — Sunday edition

Hello from New Jersey!

Today most of the sports teams were able to go to their venues and see where they would be playing  this week. Some even had the chance to practice, which was nice after such a long travel day yesterday.

Tennis
Tennis started the morning off with divisioning competition. One Unified Sports team of Jeremie Ballinger and Bobby Williams went 4-0 with wins over Maryland (10-4 and 10-0), South Carolina (10-6) and New Jersey (11-9). To get a first-hand account of how the team faired, check out Jeremie’s blog at www.somo.org/jeremie.

The other team of Ashley Wurst and Brittany Selken won two matches (Maryland 10-4 and New Jersey 10-5) and lost two (Rhode Island 7-10 and Connecticut 6-10).

Overall, coaches Linda Wiederholt and Peggy Llewellyn-Neff said they were proud of how both teams battled and got their nerves out of the way early as they head into competition Monday, which will include being a part of the Unified Sports Showcase under the lights on center court at the beautiful Mercer County Park beginning as early as 6 p.m.

Family Pep Rally
More than 120 family members and friends attended the Family Pep Rally at the family hotel Sunday morning where Team Missouri Assistant Head of Delegation Susan Shaffer addressed the family members. Shaffer talked about what they could expect throughout the week at each of the venues.

SOMO President and CEO Mark Musso also took time to thank the parents for coming all the way to New Jersey to support their athletes. He told them that while this week is for the athletes, it’s also for them as well and for them to enjoy it! He also told them to focus on this week being more about a journey instead of the destination.

There were plenty of goodies for the families to take to the venues throughout the week to cheer on not just their team, but the rest of Team Missouri as well. It sounded like they were pretty excited to defend the “Best Fans of the Games” award that we received in 2010 at the games in Lincoln, Neb.

Opening Ceremony
All of the team traveled on buses to Newark, New Jersey for Opening Ceremony at the Prudential Center where the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League play their home games. The WHOLE highway was shut down so that the buses could travel and have police escorts. Not just certain sections of the highway, but the whole thing. It was a sight to see. Photos are on the mobile app photo gallery and our social media accounts (Twitter: @SOMissouri & Facebook: SpecialOlympicsMO). One of our bus drivers said he’s been driving charter busses around the state for years and he’s never seen anything like it.

Actor and super model Brooklyn Decker and Philadelphia 76ers Rookie of the Year Michael Carter Williams hosted the Opening Ceremony. A Billy Joel tribute band performed as did a few, select members of the Broadway show “Wicked.”

Actor Jane Lynch and The Big Show and David Otunga of the WWE and multiple other celebrities made appearances. A Unified softball team from Maryland carried in the Special Olympics flag and hung it with Lashelle Griffin singing. Then came time for the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg participants to bring the torch in and light the cauldron to signify the beginning of the games.

The whole focus of the Opening Ceremony was “Unify.” From how the athletes interact with themselves and the volunteers this weekend to the different sports that feature Unified Sports teams, the message was about making sure everyone knew that we are more alike than different and that unites us all. Each part of the cauldron represented a foundation of Special Olympics. They lit the torch and Chairman of Special Olympics Inc., Tim Shriver declared the games officially open.

The athletes made it back to the dorms around 10 p.m. and received their boxed dinner (a little late, but we were so hungry didn’t care) and headed off to bed to begin their week of competition.

For photos from the Family Pep Rally and Opening Ceremony, click here. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.725967997466507.1073741878.117595708303742&type=1 or you can look on Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/somissouri/, which will also let you download full high-resolution photos.

Mobile App
Don’t forget to download the Team Missouri mobile app on your Apple or Android devices. This will be the most immersive MO Magic experience and the best way to follow the team all week while our athletes are busy making you all proud back home. Whether you’re joining us in New Jersey or watching from afar, the app really does have something for everybody (schedules, photo galleries, alerts on when athletes receive awards, videos and more!). If you don’t have a mobile device capable of utilizing the app, you can still access the app via the web at http://m.core-apps.com/somo_2014 or just stay tuned at http://www.somo.org/momagic.

Blogs
“We had police escorts that took us all the way to Newark. We got our first glimpse of the New York City skyline which was pretty neat…” Read the rest of Rachel Antal, the Public Relations Assistant’s, blog at www.somo.org/rachel.

“The National Anthem singer put a unique twist on it, which usually makes me cringe, but this was actually a really cool rock version that ended in fireworks. Several entertainers performed, my favorite of which was the cast of Wicked singing “Defying Gravity.” Read the rest of Mandi, the Bowling Sports Manager’s, blog at www.somo.org/mandi.

“Our mission today was simple; experience USA Games Opening Ceremonies and let it blow our minds!” Read the rest of Jocelyn, a Unified Golf partner’s, blog at www.somo.org/jocelyn.

Videos
Athletics athlete Allen Tobin gives you a behind the scenes look before Opening Ceremony (http://youtu.be/7wZbzNrqZjk)

Bocce athlete Matthew Cepeda lets you walk into Opening Ceremony with Team Missouri (http://youtu.be/0JzsZHYM5QY)

St. Louis family realizes potential of son through Young Athletes Program

Raising a child with special needs can be a challenge for any parent.  John and Sarah Bowen of St. Louis were willing to take on the challenge – and the privilege – when they adopted their son, Jonah.

“I can’t say it was easy,” Sarah said.  “The whole adoption process itself can be emotional; and knowing that there’s a possibility that special needs could come up in the future definitely added to that chaos of adoption, but the first year with him was really good.”

Both John and Sarah have worked in the medical field and therefore had a better understanding of early warning signs for intellectual disabilities.

Despite the possibility of raising a child with special needs, John and Sarah wanted to provide the best care possible for their son.

Sarah recalled that he was “just a typical baby and it was pretty much at his first birthday that he crawled and we noticed that certain milestones weren’t being met. That went on from there to different doctors to figure out how we could help.”

One outlet that has helped both Jonah, 4, and his parents has been their involvement in the Young Athletes® Program provided by Special Olympics Missouri. YAP is a sport and play program designed for children ages 3-7. Depending on the location of the program, it’s typically a one-hour session that lasts between four to eight weeks twice a year.

The program is designed get kids active by participating in games that will help build skills toward eventual sports inclusion as they grow up. While the program falls under the Special Olympics umbrella of programs, it’s open to all children, not just those with intellectual disabilities.

John and Sarah have been able to gain a support system through YAP.  They both had positive feedback about the Young Athletes Program and what it means to them: “In a way, I would say it’s hope,” Sarah said.  “It’s invaluable.  We cherish the time we get to spend with other parents because they may just be saying something off the cuff and it sparks an idea it’s like ‘Oh, yeah, maybe we should look into that.’

“The joy for me is seeing Jonah running around participating, smiling and having a good time, but there’s also selfishly the parent side of it that I can take a break for an hour and talk to other adults.”

John agreed, “There are resources and help out there … (shows you) that you’re not alone.  Everybody has a little bit of a different situation, but there are things we can share and learn from each other and I think that’s a good resource in that aspect, too.”

While Jonah’s parents have been able to gain a support system, Jonah has been able to gain confidence both intellectually and athletically.  His growth has not gone unnoticed by his parents.

“He was always just…I wouldn’t say he was afraid, but there was always that barrier that he couldn’t seem to get over, but being in the Young Athletes Program especially has helped him with his confidence in doing activities and different sports and stepping over that barrier and going for it,” Sarah said.

John said Jonah can be himself at YAP functions.

“The program allows him to express himself just because the program is so active and it keeps him going,” John said.

Those who are in charge of running the Young Athletes Program have also observed the ways in which the program has benefited the Bowen family. One of those individuals is the St. Louis Metro Area Program Outreach Manager Aimee Loyet.

“Jonah is one of my most exciting young athletes by far,” Loyet said.  “He does – for being such a little person and a young man – have a huge personality and a knack at commanding an entire room and getting people to feel comfortable and happy.  He’s such a bright young boy and I’ve seen so much growth in him over the last few years.”

Because of Jonah’s continued growth and the support from his parents, they have endless opportunities for their future involvement with Special Olympics Missouri.

“I see not only the family but Jonah being able to lead his peers and be involved with the Athlete Leadership Program and spreading the word of SOMO,” Loyet said. “He would be a great spokesperson to have such longevity with the program as he moves into adulthood.”

Loyet said the Young Athletes Program is more than just training children with intellectual disabilities.  It’s also training families and parents on having a support group, friends and additional resources in a non-judgmental group of parents who are going through those same struggles.

To learn more details about a Young Athletes Program near you, please visit our website at www.somo.org.

Internship Posting: Cycle for the Future Event Planner/Marketing Intern

Cycle for the Future Internship

Brief Description: This intern will work directly with the Cycle for the Future Event Planner of Special Olympics Missouri. The intern will have opportunities to help recruit participants, plan ancillary event, work on publicity all to raise money through this unique event.  This is a pro bono position based in Jefferson City and the intern will be expected to work roughly 15 hours per week.

Details: Internship length and hours are flexible, depending on the student’s needs.   Intern would need a weekly presence in the office – ideally at least 2 days per week. Full days in the office aren’t required as some work can be done from home. 

Event Details: Cycle for the Future is a two-day cycling fundraiser on the Katy Trail where riders have the option of riding from St. Charles to Jefferson City or Clinton to Jefferson City. The event takes place Sept. 20-21, 2014. Along the route, riders will have the opportunity to volunteer at “demonstration stops” where SOMO athletes will come and take part in a 1.5-2-hour demonstration on cycling. For more information on the ride, visit www.somo.org/cycleforthefuture.

 Examples of tasks in priority order include:

  • Actively recruit participants
  • Communicate effective messages about the event and Special Olympics Missouri to the public
  • Ensure CftF “Best Practices” are being followed
  • Distribute participant packets
  • Draft E-comm messages to constituents
  • Monitor participant registration system
  • Come up with ideas to help plan the logistics of the event
  • Provide logistical support to event planner and committee
  • Onsite at event – photography, customer service, media relations, sponsor relations
  • Liaison for potential sponsors and donors

Qualifications: The ideal candidate should be creative and enthusiastic, flexible, independent and be willing to join a team that works very hard to carry out the mission of Special Olympics Missouri. Experience and education in business management, journalism, public relations or communications and some special events fundraising experience is preferred.

Timeframe: Start ASAP and ends shortly after the ride in late September (We can work around your school schedule once it starts up again in August)

Application Instructions: Send in your resume and cover letter to Brandon Schatsiek at schatsiek@somo.org.

Contact Information: Brandon Schatsiek, Public Relations Coordinator; 573-635-1660, schatsiek@somo.org

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

When it comes to facing one’s fears, Allison D’Agostino, 25, has conquered them by participating in Special Olympics Missouri for seven years.

D’Agostino competes in bowling and aquatics with aquatics being her favorite sport.  “I feel free whenever I’m in the water,” D’Agostino said.  “I don’t know why, but I do.”

However, that wasn’t always the case when she first started training with SOMO and her Central Area coaches, Jody Cook and Kelly Collins.

Allison D'Agostino gets a high-five from her swim coach Kelly Collins following a few laps in the pool.

Allison D’Agostino gets a high-five from her swim coach Kelly Collins following a few laps in the pool.

“The first years she trained with us she didn’t compete,” Cook said.  “She found competition intimidating.  Her second year she was skeptical about competing.”

Luckily for D’Agostino, Cook knew the words of encouragement D’Agostino needed to hear to get out there and compete.

“I told her that for a swimmer of her talent competing was required.  I still remember what a kick she got out of her first swim meet!” Cook said.

D’Agostino’s coaches have noticed how those words of encouragement have motivated her to continue competing in aquatics.

“D’Agostino is eager to ask what she can do to improve after each set and constantly strives to better herself as an athlete,” Collins said. “She is always the first one in the pool and the last one out.  D’Agostino just enjoys being in the water and you can tell that by her good attitude during practice.  I can see the effort she puts in each practice to improve herself and her races.”

Conquering Fears

Facing her initial fears of competing has allowed D’Agostino to gain confidence in several aspects of her life.

At 25 years old, D’Agostino has lived on her own for nearly four years.  Her favorite part about living independently is the privacy.  “I get things done much quicker without a roommate,” D’Agostino said.

D’Agostino has her very own YouTube Channel called The Esperanza243 as well as a radio show on BlogTalkRadio.com entitled Show Time, Radio Time.  Her experience with these hobbies was a major reason why she was originally nominated by the Central Area to be highlighted in May.

They have allowed her to gain confidence, so much so that she recently trained as a Global Messenger for SOMO and was quite impressive – according to the Central Area Program Director, Diane Brimer.  D’Agostino came prepared with a speech that she had written on her very own.  She was then given the opportunity to be the athlete speaker at the 2014 Polar Plunge in Columbia.

On top of all of these responsibilities, D’Agostino maintains a job at Wendy’s.  “At times, it feels repetitive.  But I can’t imagine any other job to have right now,” she said. “Great co-workers, great regular guests to talk with, and 50 percent discount on food; I’m loving it.

All-around Athlete

It is no surprise that D’Agostino is adored by many of her peers.  When asked what sets her apart, Cook said it’s her “fun-loving, outgoing, kind and caring heart/spirit and the fact that she is well rounded.  She loves competing, and is a dedicated athlete, but doesn’t take it all too seriously.  Her life is balanced with sports, reading, writing and school.”

Collins said despite her reserved nature in the beginning, D’Agostino has recently come into her own in the last few years of involvement in SOMO.

“D’Agostino has a very bright and bubbly personality.  She is very upbeat and enjoys laughing at practice, even when she is worn out.  D’Agostino is very into her writing and poetry and enjoys sharing her writings with the others on the team.  She has a good relationship with her other team members.  It is uncommon to see her alone; instead she is interacting with her teammates and seeing how they are doing” Collins said.

Being actively involved with SOMO, D’Agostino has had the ability to impact the lives of those around her as well as her own.

“To me, SOMO is a social sports get-together,” D’Agostino said. “No matter what sport you’re doing, you get to meet new people; you get to stay fit; you improve what you’re great at; your body moves to a rhythm for well-needed exercise.  I don’t care about the medals, because I’m having fun with my friends.”

Sportsmanship

D’Agostino’s peers and coaches have noticed the way in which she puts others first.

“D’Agostino has an infectious joy about her that is contagious” Collins said.  “She is always willing to help other athletes out if they do not understand something and she does.  She also takes the time to ask other coaches and athletes how they are doing.  She truly cares about those around her, which makes her someone that everyone wants to be around.”

D'Agostino shows her appreciation for one of her coaches by giving her a big hug following a swim practice.

D’Agostino shows her appreciation for one of her coaches by giving her a big hug following a swim practice.

A good story that personifies D’Agostino’s positive attitude involves her teammates.

D’Agostino eagerly took on a leadership role at a recent swim meet.  Rather than focusing on herself, she made sure that her teammates were focused and excited for the upcoming competition.

Collins recalls her “high-fiving the three other swimmers on her relay before they each went to their respective ends of the pool.”

D’Agostino didn’t stop there, either.

“During awards, D’Agostino put her arms around the rest of the relay to unify the relay as a one group and not four individual swimmers.” Collins said.  “She focuses on the team and not on herself, which is such a wonderful thing.”

Anything is Possible

“Since I became an athlete, I’ve changed,” D’Agostino said.  “My confidence is growing.  I have more friends now than ever, who I need to stay connected with.  I’m getting more connections through SOMO.

“I’m a Global Messenger, which I absolutely love and because of that, my YouTube channel and my radio show have improved.  I’ll finally get a book published this year and I am proud of who I am becoming.”

Young Athletes Program Motivates Young Volunteer

It is hard to imagine how something so small could have such a large impact on my life. When I first started to attend the Monday night Young Athlete Program sessions with Special Olympics Missouri, I did not expect much in return. Once you reach a point in your life, you think that people need to be learning from you. At times, although many of us do not like to admit it, we think that we have life figured out. From these Young Athletes, I have gained new perspectives, I have learned many lessons in life, and I have noticed a shift from within myself.

When I first started volunteering on Monday nights, I labeled it as another activity to fit into my busy schedule and into my hectic life. I am not sure why I took this leap and volunteered, but I am grateful that I did. After a few months passed, I gradually started to see a change in myself. I started to count down the minutes to Young Athletes Program. I started to see the athletes improve, and I started to build relationships with the Young Athletes. Young Athletes Program took on a deeper meaning than the typical thought that “it will look good on a college application”.

It is difficult to describe the change in myself I saw after I started volunteering. As a teenager I have this natural tendency to be focused on myself. I constantly thought about my trials, my victories, and my losses. After I started volunteering, there was a shift. I started to help others when they faced a trial, celebrate when they have won, and empathize when they lost. I started to develop this genuine care for others that at a time was so small.

Once I started looking beyond myself, I started to learn the value of accepting others. In the beginning I was not sure how to interact with these athletes. Early on most of what I saw was their disabilities. After hours of volunteering, I see these athletes in a new light. After spending time with these athletes, I saw them as regular kids. All of us have differences, and some of our differences are more visible than others’ differences. Being involved in Special Olympics Missouri has taught me how to be accepting of others differences because in the end the differences do not matter. We are all human. That is enough to treat each other equally and as you would want to be treated.

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Young Athletes and their Whitfield School volunteers at the Young Athletes Program awards ceremony.

The Young Athletes that I have interacted with are truly miracles. With every athlete you can learn something about life or even about yourself if you keep a sensitive, open mind. Every day we are bombarded many different voices telling you how to be happy. These athletes have shown me how to do this. One athlete in particular has pointed me towards happiness. This Young Athlete I worked with this year has really changed my life. This beautiful girl has Down syndrome. Ever since I first met her, I felt drawn to her. I started building a relationship with her. I started noticing her improvements, I had an easier time understanding her, and I noticed how she interacted with the world around her. One of the things that stood out to me is that she is constantly smiling through all of the different ups and downs she is facing internally and externally. Even if she is having a rough day, she is smiling ear to ear. She is laughing, cheering all of her friends on, and giving high fives and hugs. She has given me a new perspective on life.

Spending time with this Young Athlete always gives me energy. Her smiles and giggles are contagious. My mind cannot fully comprehend how she manages to smile even through everything she faces moment to moment. This Young Athlete has given me the courage to overcome my trials. She has shown me the ripple effect of happiness. She helps others smile and laugh, and the people who are smiling and laughing make others smile and laugh. Imagine how different our world would be if we made one other person smile every day. This Young Athlete does not compare herself to others, she does not judge others by external appearance, and she lives a life of simplicity and joy that all of us could learn from.

With the help of Special Olympics Missouri, I have seen a shift within myself. Every day I try to live like this young athlete. Trying to keep a selfless mind has helped me to grow a passion for helping others. The Young Athletes Program has taught me life lessons that even the greatest philosophers could not provide. This program has not only brought me a new passion of working with these young athletes, this program has taught me the importance of serving others, and it has taught me valuable lessons about myself, life, and happiness.

Sydney Smith is a sophomore at Whitfield School in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Smith volunteers with the Young Athletes Program as an extracurricular activity.

Seth Dye of Carthage is a model SOMO athlete

There aren’t any perfect people in this world, but talk to some of Seth Dye’s coaches in Carthage and they’d tell anybody willing to listen that Dye comes pretty close to being the perfect SOMO athlete.

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Seth Dye, 19, poses in front of his many medals earned from competing in Special Olympics Missouri events over the years.

“Seth is kind, considerate, helpful and always tries his best,” said his coach of five years, Mary Frazier. “He always lends a helping hand to others. He has good work ethic and is a good friend to others.”

But Frazier said what really separates Dye from other SOMO athletes is that “he never gives up.”

“He has worked so hard to be the best that he can be.”

Melissa Reese, Dye’s mother, said he has grown so much over the years, but it hasn’t always been easy.

“Having a child with special needs has been an emotional roller coaster as a parent,” Reese said. “The first half of Seth’s life was all uncertainty and struggles – trying to help with school and after-school programs. And help in general for a parent at this time wasn’t an easy task.”

That’s where the Special Olympics program really helped change things for Reese and her son.

“But the second half has been a whole other story. … Special Olympics has taught him some amazing things… understanding autism and having a great doctor has made a huge impact. Seth has grown to (a degree) understand himself and how he is feeling,” Reese said.

“He is able to communicate much better on issues and problems he has. He has become much more social and loves meeting up with friends and just hanging out with other kids and young adults his age.”

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Dye and his fellow Carthage basketball teammates pose for a photo at a SOMO basketball tournament.

Dye, who graduated from Carthage High School in 2013, said while he participates in bowling and track and field, basketball is his favorite SOMO sport.

“My favorite part about SOMO is the medals and friends,” Dye said.

Dye still competes with his fellow Carthage High School students at Special Olympics Missouri events.

Southwest Area Program Coordinator Stevie Lain said she wanted to highlight Dye not just because of his involvement with SOMO, but his push to help other people as well.

He recently ran in the Camp Barnabas Big Party Half Marathon and 5k, which raised money and awareness for people with disabilities.

Dye finished 7th in his age group of 19 and under and 77th out of 167 total runners.

“I spoke with Seth and his mom after the race,” Lain said, “he was very excited and looking forward to running again next year. He wants to get some of his fellow Carthage Special Olympics friends to join next time.”

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Dye poses for a photo after competing in the local Camp Barnabas Big Party Half Marathon and 5k, which raised money and awareness for people with disabilities.

For Reese, it all comes back to how SOMO has played an integral role in shaping her son’s life since his involvement began.

“Seth has grown into an amazing young man. He loves to help. Special Olympics has taught him so much,” Reese said. “He has learned that working hard toward goals has great rewards.”

Team Missouri helps athlete grow both on and off the field

One of the easiest ways to tell if a Special Olympics program is successful is in the growth of the athletes outside of the realm of competition.

One such success story is in Tere’e Trussell from Columbia, Mo.

Trussell, 22, has been involved with Special Olympics Missouri for more than six years, participating in softball, tennis, track, basketball and golf.Trussel, Tere

Central Area Program Director Diane Brimer said Trussell has really developed into a team leader – but it wasn’t too long ago when she thought Trussell wasn’t getting everything out of the program that she wanted.

“When I’d see her at competitions before, she just seemed down all the time,” Brimer said. “She seemed kind of disinterested in what was going on. She didn’t really talk to anyone that she didn’t already know well.”

However, Brimer said she noticed a change in Trussell following her nomination and selection in June 2013 to attend the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games as a part of Team Missouri.

“Just in those few short months since her selection, I couldn’t get over how her personality has really changed and she’s much more outgoing in meeting new people on the team and just enjoying herself,” Brimer said. “She was talking to people I never saw her talk to before.

“She just seemed to be enjoying life so much more.”

Despite being nominated for the team in tennis, Trussell also tried out for the golf team and will be competing in the Level 1 Individual Skills Competition in New Jersey.

Trussell, Ter'e (2)

Trussell practices her golf swing at a Team Missouri training in March 2014.

Trussell said she is “honored” to attend the 2014 USA Games as a part of Team Missouri.

“I’m most looking forward to meeting new people from other states!” Trussell said.

That’s a sentence that Brimer never thought she would hear from Trussell – and firmly believes that being selected for Team Missouri has changed her outlook on Special Olympics Missouri.

It has given her a sense of belonging and being a part of a team, which Trussell said is why SOMO is so important to her.

“I’m a part of a team and have met many new friends,” she said. “I also have lost weight and made better eating choices.”

Brittany Doscher has been actively involved in Trussell’s life as a part of the staff at her assisted living center; Doscher has seen her mature over the years as well.

“I feel like she’s more accountable and shows positive leadership skills,” Doscher said. “I feel that Tere’e has developed a sense of community with all of her teammates.

“Each person brings their own set of strengths and they all work together to bring out the best of each other.