Cycling at Sports Camp

For one week every summer, Sports Camp at Special Olympics Missouri gives more than 80 SOMO athletes a chance to practice their athletic skills, try new sports and bond with fellow athletes, coaches and counselors. Sports Camp offers up to 10 sports over the course of the week, ranging from official Special Olympics sports such as flag football, soccer and volleyball, to other activities such as disc golf and cycling.

The cycling classes were featured every day of camp and, with the help of the PedNet Coalition (www.PedNet.org), provided athletes of all ability levels a chance to practice their biking skills. Beginners could start on Strider bikes (www.StriderBikes.com), which do not have any pedals and allowed riders to get their balance before moving up to larger bicycles, while more advanced riders could try to tackle different obstacle courses that were set up each day.

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Don Richter rides a bike flanked on each side by camp staff members

The highlight for many athletes, coaches and camp staff members was seeing athletes move from pushing themselves along on a Strider bike on Monday and graduate to riding a full-sized bicycle by Thursday. Sometimes athletes who had ridden before just needed a week at Sports Camp to rekindle their enjoying riding a bike or brush up on their skills.

 

Don Richter, the oldest athlete at Sports Camp at age 69, was able to ride by himself for the first time since having two hip replacements in 2014 and 2015. He said that, even though he had ridden before, the fact that he was able to get back onto the bike for that first time gave him the most excitement from the activity.

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Logan Gardner is ready and raring to go!

Another athlete, Logan Gardner, became so inspired by the help he had over the course of the week to ride a bike by himself, that once he figured it out he circled the facility yelling, “I can ride a bike!” in excitement and would hardly stop for anyone. In an interview alongside his father, Tim, Logan Gardner said that he used memory of when he first learned how to ride at a younger age to help others through their own learning process at Sports Camp.

 

“He loves riding and once he figured it out at camp, he wanted to encourage the other athletes,” Tim Gardner said. “He wanted to show them that if he could ride, they can too and nothing was stopping them.”

PedNet’s Assistant Director Lawrence Simonson has led the cycling session at Sports Camp for two years and saw first-hand how much the athletes loved hopping on a bike, sometimes for the first time.

“In our culture there are certain milestones in people’s lives and that ‘learn-to-ride’ story is certainly one of them,” Simonson said. “That’s a massive milestone and some people in your program may have never had that opportunity. If we can come in and give them that life milestone, it’s a wonderful thing. Everyone should have that. We’re excited to help give them that.”

One such example of this is of an athlete who came to Sports Camp who tried to ride a bike when he was younger, but never really got the hang of it.

“Getting to speak to his dad, he thought it was just another one of those life milestones he’d never get and here he is as an adult finally getting that chance to ride a bike,” Simonson said. “He had that determination to never give up.”

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Lawrence Simonson helps guide SOMO athlete Larry Stephens down the lane

That leads to one of the things that has surprised Simonson about working with Special Olympics Missouri athletes: positivity.

 

“One of the things that surprised me the most — and it’s a credit to staff and volunteers — is the positive attitude of the athletes,” he said. “I’ve never worked with another group of individuals who can take failure and take them as learning experiences rather than something they just can’t do.

“They understand they will fall from time to time, but they get back on and keep trying.”

Another important benefit of cycling that Simonson and PedNet are excited to share with the athletes is how riding a bike can be a great mode of transportation for them.

“A lot of times, your athletes may never get a license and struggle with transportation issues,” Simonson said. “Using a bike is an efficient, healthy and affordable option for them to get to their job or see family and friends. That’s just one more wonderful benefit to this program.”

These are just a few examples of the many successful stories that came from the just the cycling activity that week. Seeing the excitement on the athletes’ faces when they realized what they had accomplished in just four short days was the payoff that made cycling an important and joyful part of Sports Camp. Thanks to the strong relationship with PedNet, Special Olympics Missouri program staff hopes to continue to offer cycling at Sports Camp and at future events throughout the rest of the year around the state.

“I really do think this would be a wonderful sport for SOMO to have,” Simonson said. “I always say that if you give me a problem, I can solve it with a bike.

“I’m happy to at least be stoking that fire at least a little bit.”

-Harrison McLean, Brandon Schatsiek

My First Week at Sports Camp

13533175_10157356670870643_4808630609636102854_nMy name is Harrison McLean and I currently serve as the Public Relations and Volunteer Coordinator for Special Olympics Missouri. I have been involved with SOMO for a little over a month, so since I am the newest member on staff I wanted to share some of my first experiences I’ve had as part of this organization. Enjoy!

I did not know what to expect. I was nervous. Optimistic. Excited. Unsure.

I did not know that a week spent on the campus of a military academy in the sweltering heat of summer would become the highlight of my young career.

I was going to Sports Camp, a week-long adventure held once year over the course of one week by Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) to give over 80 athletes a chance to practice and try new sports, meet new friends and spend time on their own away from home. For athletes with varying levels of intellectual disabilities, it gives them a chance for a summer camp experience they may not be able to have otherwise. Upon their arrival to camp, the athletes are split into five groups which they stay in for the entire week.

Sports Camp consists of a multitude of sports and activities that are both offered as official Special Olympics sports or more leisure-based games. The mornings are spent rotating through five SOMO sports (volleyball, flag football, soccer, tennis and golf), with each group spending about 45 minutes at each station.

13482926_1147117452018224_2008321758353302433_oFollowing lunch and a brief rest period, the groups rotate through another five activities, ranging from disc golf and swimming, to bocce and noodle hockey. Then, after all 10 activities are done and dinner is served, the whole camp participates in an evening activity, whether it be a movie night, Minute to Win It games, relay races or the highly anticipated dance.

While the focus of Sports Camp is, naturally, to play sports and pick up skills throughout the week, it soon becomes much more than that for campers, staff, counselors and coaches alike. It becomes a time for people to bond on and off the playing field, to understand one another not just as athletes but on a more personal level. Everyone eats together, lives together in the barracks, plays together, shares the same experiences throughout the week, making getting to know someone in a group that spends five and a half days together that much easier.

Even spending just a single day in a group, as I did, can create bonds and friendships that will last beyond the week at camp. As the new PR and media member on staff, it was my job to document the events of the week on social media, following a different group each day. Through the lens of my iPhone camera, I was able to capture people’s joy as they played their favorite sport with friends, determination as they learned a new skill, triumph as they learned to ride a bike for the first time.

But through the lens of my own two eyes, I was able to see the bonds of friendship being formed, both between athletes and staff members. I sometimes even forgot my media duties because I got too wrapped up in helping an athlete learn how to hit a tennis ball or swing a golf club.

This was my first opportunity to get to know a lot of our athletes over an extended period of time. I started on Monday nervously asking a group leader if I could follow them and maybe take a few pictures. By Friday, I had made connections with athletes in every single group. We cracked jokes, overcame challenges, told each other about our days and shared stories about ourselves. I even scored a couple of dates to the dance.

At the end of the week, a few staff members held what we call Input Councils, where we give athletes as well as counselors and coaches personal spaces to talk about what went well and what could be improved upon going forward. One athlete brought up that a strength of the camp was how everyone was able to come together as one, had respect for one another and built to become a family. Because Special Olympics isn’t just an organization, it becomes a family.

In my first month on the job I had seen events like State Summer Games and Jamaal Charles football camps take place. I knew what it was like to work in the Jefferson City offices and manage the business side of the organization. But it wasn’t until Sports Camp that I really got to see what Special Olympics Missouri was all about on a personal level. I knew then that I was part of the family.

-Harrison McLean

Profile: Justin Janes, 2015 Raffle Winner

The 2016 Drive it Home Raffle tickets are for sale, which means you could be the recipient of $500 or, if you’re as lucky as Justin Janes, a brand new Ford F-150.

Justin Janes in truckJanes, a Warrenton sheriff’s deputy and the winner of last year’s Drive it Home Raffle, purchased the winning ticket from former Board member Randy Boehm. James said that a presentation was given while he was enrolled at the Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia about the Law Enforcement Torch Run and the raffle, which led to his unwittingly winning decision.

Boehm, who has been heavily involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run and Special Olympics Missouri for nearly 30 years, was glad that he not only sold the winning ticket, but that it went to a young, soon-to-be law enforcement officer.

“I’m proud to be a part of a fundraising effort that allows these athletes who might not be able to compete to be a part of the experience. It’s a perfect way to give back,” Boehm said. “Hopefully I can use that I sold the winning ticket to help boost my future sales too.”

The final drawing was held last November at the Zimmer Radio Tailgate prior to the Missouri v. Tennessee football game. Janes was then presented with keys to the truck in the end zone during the game.

While Janes was able to drive off with his new car, he did not get to enjoy it for long. After two months of driving the car, he sold it, which he admitted was a difficult decision. However, in return, it helped pay off Janes’ and his wife’s student loans.

Despite little involvement with Special Olympics Missouri prior to purchasing raffle tickets, Janes said he is considering becoming involved in the Torch Run and possibly reentering this year’s raffle drawing.

“I’ve seen close coworkers involvement in the Torch Run, and I’ve had family involved in Special Olympics so I see how it has impacted them, what they do and what it stands for,” Janes said.

Tickets for this year’s drawing are currently on sale at $5 per ticket, or one book of 10 tickets for $50. Proceeds go toward SOMO’s 15,000 athletes throughout the state and their participation in sports. There will be eight finalists chosen: seven regional winners and one from tickets sold on November 26 at the Zimmer Tailgate. All tickets not sold at the tailgate must be purchased by October 31. This year’s prize is a 2016 Ford F-150 XLT. More information can be found at somo.org/raffle.

Ali Remembered at Special Olympics

Special Olympics Missouri Risk Management Director Gary Brimer shares a story about boxer Muhammed Ali, who passed away Friday, and his experience at the Special Olympics. Ali, a three-time World Heavyweight Champion during his career, also served as an activist and made several appearances at international Special Olympic events throughout his life.

“I had never been a big fan of Muhammad Ali. I don’t know why but I had never cared for people that bragged about themselves. It just seemed so egotistical and pompous. Yet in 1979 when I arrived in Brockport the rumors that Ali was there kind of mellowed my feelings. I mean the most famous man in sports took his time to come see our athletes.

As I wandered about my first International Games, awed by sights and sounds of such a wonderful event, I heard the story of how Muhammad Ali had disembarked from his own private air craft in Chicago and boarded a commercial flight carrying the delegation from Washington state so that he could be with our athletes. This couldn’t be the same guy that boasted “I am the best”, could it?

Then I saw an autograph tent with hundreds of athletes around it waiting to get in. I could not guess who could be in there so I asked a nearby volunteer wearing a red Coca-Cola volunteer t-shirt. She said that it was Muhammad Ali’s tent and it had been that way for two full days.

As I watched in wonder, suddenly the tent opened and the man himself emerged. His body guards immediately began pushing back the crowd of athletes and behind them the coaches and other fans. He stopped his body guards with a word, waved them back and told them to keep all the non-athletes back and then began his saunter across the campus with hundreds of athletes around him.

It was an incredible sight. He held hands with as many athletes as he could, lifting the smaller ones for a quick hug or just to show them something. At that moment he was “The Greatest” in my eyes and he became one of my heroes from that moment on.

I saw him many years later at another Games in Ireland as I walked in with Team USA. He was there to participate in yet another Opening Ceremonies. He had aged dramatically, his Parkinson’s had a terrible effect, but his eyes were still bright with the fire that he had in 1979. I will always admire the man for what he did for our Special Olympics Athletes and how he put them on pedestal.”

-Gary Brimer

 

SOMO recognizes first ‘School of Character:’ Pleasant Hope H.S.

DSC_0107.JPGSpecial Olympics Missouri staff is proud to recognize Pleasant Hope High School and its student council as the non-profit’s first School of Character Award of Merit recipient for the 2015-16 school year.

This award was established in conjunction with SOMO’s partnership with the Missouri Association of Student Councils to recognize those schools that went above and beyond for the athletes of Special Olympics Missouri and the students in their school who have an intellectual or developmental disability.

It is the highest level of recognition for one school in the state based on their outstanding commitment to individuals with intellectual disabilities, showing they have a true understanding of unity and a passion for raising awareness and funds for local SOMO athletes.

Schools can earn points based on a variety of different things, including:

  • Hosting and/or volunteering at a local Special Olympics Missouri event
  • Organizing a Young Athletes program for athletes ages 3-7
  • Starting a Unified Sports team at your school where people without intellectual disabilities play on the same team as SOMO athletes who have an intellectual disability
  • Having a student council member become a SOMO coach
  • Raising funds through Over the Edge, Polar Plunge or any other fundraising initiative

Pleasant Hope High School was recognized at its May 12 board of education meeting by Trish Lutz, SOMO’s senior director of programs with a plaque presentation.

“Pleasant Hope High School has always been a strong supporter of Special Olympics Missouri,” Lutz said. “The students of Pleasant Hope High School lead by example through acceptance, respect and inclusion for all.

“Jacob Conklin deserves a tremendous amount of credit for instilling compassion and understanding into the students that he mentors.”

Conklin, Pleasant Hope’s student council advisor and special education teacher, was on-hand to accept the award with some of his students.

“It is inspiring to see young people so eager to serve and volunteer to benefit other people,” Conklin said. “For these students it is not about padding their college or scholarship applications, they volunteer because they have a passion, a belief, that they can help improve the lives of people around them.

“We have students that change their future goals after volunteering for Special Olympics Missouri. They want to become special education teachers, physical therapists, speech pathologists, coaches and mentors. I can’t help but think that the lessons these students learn volunteering are more impactful than the lessons learned in the classroom.”

Be Brave: Go Over the Edge!

Sandy KarstenFor Lt. Col. Sandy Karsten of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, rappelling 13 stories down the Jefferson State Office building is a way to be more like Special Olympics athletes, who practice courage every day.

“If they can do it, I can do it,” she says.

Karsten is referring to Over the Edge, an adrenaline-pumped event in which participants raise $1,000 to rappel down a prominent building. Proceeds benefit Special Olympics Missouri.

“Have you ever gotten a hug from a Special Olympics athlete? If you’ve ever presented a medal, you see how happy they are and you celebrate the success with them,” she says. “You see what your dollar does for those special people. It gives you a good feeling to support them.”

Karsten’s colleagues had been participating in the Polar Plunge for years, but she declined because she does not do well with cold water. When she heard about Over the Edge, she felt like this was a good opportunity to take a more active role in raising funds. While $1,000 can seem like a daunting amount, Karsten says it’s mostly a matter of talking to people.

“Don’t be afraid to ask people,” she says. “I wear Special Olympics apparel – it’s a great conversation starter while you’re standing in line at the grocery store. I talk about my involvement with the (Law Enforcement) Torch Run. I’ve gone to people we do business with and told them about Special Olympics being our charity of choice. Most people are eager to assist.”

She says her department has hosted trivia nights, dunking booths, bake sales and poker rallies. They try to infuse fun into raising money, which helps them look forward to the event each year.

SandyThe event is offered in St. Louis and Jefferson City each fall. This year, participants have the choice of rappelling down the Jefferson State Office Building on Oct. 15 or the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch on Oct. 29. Both venues offer spectacular views and the opportunity to see the cities from a unique perspective.

“If you’re brave enough to turn to the side, you can see the governor’s mansion and the river,” she says. “If you can stand to look down, you can see your supporters down there.”

This bravery mirrors the bravery that Special Olympics athletes display each time they step onto the playing field. They’re overcoming stigma of having an intellectual disability and decades upon decades of stereotypes that have oppressed people like them. Special Olympics gives them the opportunity to shine, showcase their abilities and be celebrated for who they are.

Rappelling down a tall building can seem daunting, especially for anyone who has a fear of heights. Karsten has some advice for putting yourself in the right mental space before a rappel. She practiced by doing a rock climbing wall at her local YMCA.

“For everyone, there is a short training session, and that’s when I get nervous,” she says. “But that leaves after you feel comfortable with the harness and trust the rigging.   When you get up on the wall to go down, you just remember your training, and gravity takes care of the rest.”

Karsten says that talking about the event afterward is important as well. She lets people know how much fun she had and ensures that her donors feel appreciated.

“Now that I’ve done it three times, people ask me, ‘Hey are you rappelling for Special Olympics again?  How much is needed to put you Over the Edge?’”

You can learn more and register to participate in Over the Edge at www.somo.org/edge.

Missouri Association of Student Councils Celebrates 25 Years of Friendship

duck pictureWhat started as a way for youth leaders in Missouri to volunteer their time and learn about inclusion 25 years ago has grown into a relationship between Special Olympics athletes and their peers in hundreds of schools across the state.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the partnership between The Missouri Association of Student Councils (MASC) and Special Olympics Missouri. To celebrate the 25 years of friendship, MASC held a celebration during their State Convention on March 11 at Platte City High School.

The theme for the celebration was “Stand With.” MASC stands with SOMO to:
• Promote inclusion and accept in their schools
• Volunteer an average of 12,000 hours a year across the state
• As Fans in the Stands at local, area, regional and state events
• Serve in leadership roles on Games Management Teams and Plunge Committees
• Raise funds to support the 15,000 athletes – since 2009 when MASC started making the Plunge their primary fundraising opportunity – they have raised $939,287.85. By 2017, in less than 10 years, they will easily reach the $1 million mark!

Here’s a video that MASC made to celebrate our 25-year friendship.

“Let the celebration continue!” Terri Johnson, MASC Executive Director, says. “MASC feels a sense of pride and accomplishment when we can share we’ve been a SOMO partner for 25 years! From the beginning, our goal was to provide opportunities for our schools to volunteer, but it has grown into so much more. From developing friendships to finding ways to advocate for inclusion and acceptance and assisting with fundraising, our goals have widened. MASC is proud to “Stand With” Special Olympics Missouri! We cherish the opportunity to be a partner and feel our membership has learned the importance of what it means to be a friend to those with intellectual disabilities. We plan to continue our partnership for many years because we realize together we can inspire greatness, serve others, be more and lead!”

Thank you MASC. We are proud to be your friend and partner in making the world a better place for all!