About Special Olympics Missouri

Promoting acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities through sports.

The Impact of Young Athletes

 Editor’s note: This session of Young Athletes concluded in early May 2019. On May 22, an EF3 tornado tore through Jefferson City, destroying our athletic field and damaging the roof and most interior spaces at the Training for Life Campus. The campus is now closed for extensive repairs which are expected to take many months to complete. Visit http://www.somocampus.org for updates on the #SOMORebuild.

In early 2007, Special Olympics created the Young AthletesTM program to reach out to children ages 2 to 7, with intellectual disabilities, and to welcome them and their families to the Special Olympics movement.


For the past several months, students from Southwest Early Childhood Center in Jefferson City have been coming to the Training for Life Campus to participate in the Special Olympics Missouri Young Athletes program. Southwest Early Childhood Center provides special education programs to assist children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities and developmental delays.

Sarah Wilding, principal of Southwest Early Childhood Center, said they partnered with Special Olympics Missouri in 2010 in conjunction with the Torch Run. At that event, they participated in a one-day program on the front lawn of the capitol – it was called Young Athletes.

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Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, such as running, kicking and throwing. The program offers families, teachers, caregivers and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children.

“It was such a wonderful experience for our children to engage in the physical and social activities,” Wilding said.

“Our partnership with Special Olympics is important because it lets families know that Special Olympics exists and it gets kids and families comfortable with the facilities here so that as they get older maybe they will participate in some of the Special Olympics games and the different opportunities that they have,” said Lisa Wieberg, a teacher at Southwest Early Childhood Center.

With the opening of the Training for Life Campus in Jefferson City in September 2018, Special Olympics Missouri has been able to provide more services and resources, and host more programs for our athletes, such as Young Athletes. This facility is the first of its kind in the world, with the purpose of enriching the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities through sport, health and leadership opportunities. It was built to inspire a new drive in our athletes so that they may continue to develop their physical and social skills.

“It’s a place we didn’t have before, where kids can come and where things are modified and there are accommodations made so that they can participate in activities that they may not be able to do at other places in our community,” Wieberg said.


Wilding said, “When Special Olympics opened their training center…we actually really jumped at the chance to partner with Special Olympics because it’s such an amazing program and such an amazing facility.”

Young Athletes provides children with activities and games that meet their individual skill and ability levels, while allowing them to play together in a fun and inclusive environment. The program shows that all children should be valued for their talents and abilities.

“It’s an opportunity for our children to come out and participate in the physical development activities, to practice their language skills, their social skills, to those taking-turns things that are so important,” Wilding said. “But it’s not just the kids that are gaining from this, if you look at the smiling faces on these adults, they’re having fun with the children, they’re practicing skills in a real life meaningful way.”


Through Young Athletes, volunteers introduce young children to the world of sport, with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics Missouri sports training and competition at age 8.

“For a lot of our families this is an opportunity for them to get to know the broad range of services that are available through Special Olympics because for some of our families this will be a lifelong relationship with Special Olympics,” Wilding said. “It’s really a great opportunity for our children and our families to get out in the community and know what’s available for them.”

The program focuses on the basics that are crucial to cognitive development: physical activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and the application of these physical skills through sports skills programs.

“My daughter Deandra Mckaye has been attending the Special Olympics Young Athletes program for over a month now and it has been great with her development because she has had some physical challenges in the past and so this program has really helped her to overcome those challenges,” said Dianna Mckaye, parent of a young athlete.


Children learn how to play with others and develop important skills for learning. Children also learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills help children in family, community and school activities.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity for him to come and get to play and participate in sports,” said Heather Heidbreder, parent of a young athlete. “He has a hard time with language skills and listening to directions, so having an adaptive program like this where he can play with his peers and participate in team sports, it means the world to us. I am just very happy that we have this facility here and that my son is able to participate in these sports and I hope that we continue to have these opportunities available for other children like my son so that they can learn what it’s like to be in sports.”

Torrence Malone, parent of a young athlete, said Young Athletes is a fun way for children to get fit. He said it is important to teach children healthy habits while they are young.

“The Young Athletes program has helped my son Carter build teamwork with other children and learn how to be a teammate,” said Malone. “I believe it’s a great program because if it wasn’t for the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, some of these kids probably wouldn’t even be active.”


Special Olympics Missouri served more than 1,450 young athletes in 2018. For many of their families, this is their first introduction to the resources and support Special Olympics offers for children (and adults) with intellectual disabilities.

“Special Olympics is really here as a resource,” said Susan Shaffer, Program and Outreach Director for Special Olympics Missouri. “At an early age, we have so much that we can offer them to see what their child can do. Special Olympics is a lifelong (partnership), from sports to our leadership program, these are the things we can start when they are young. I really want the parents to know that it’s through sports that behaviors change, they become stars. I want the parents that come into the building to know that we are here for them to help them and not just in Special Olympics, but in life.”


Through Young Athletes, all children, their families and people in the community can be a part of building an inclusive team together.

Young Athletes helps lead children into a bright new world of sports and social skills — one full of pride and possibility.

Mckaye said, “I think this is a very good program for children with special needs. I would recommend this program to anybody and everybody.”


SOMO participants play part in northwest Missouri flood recovery

During the month of March, mid-western towns along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers battled unseasonably heavy rainfall and rising river levels. One area hit particularly hard by the flooding was northwest Missouri.

In late March, the Missouri River in the St. Joseph area crested at levels just below that of the historic 1993 flood. Heavy, above-average rainfall for the month coupled with snowmelt to the north were to blame. St. Joseph and Buchanan County issued mandatory evacuations near two levees that couldn’t hold back the waters.

I-29 in Missouri at mile marker 57 has been closed since March 19 because of the flooding in the area and subsequent repairs that the Iowa and Missouri Departments of Transportation have been doing along the border.

The last weekend in March, Special Olympics Missouri was set to host its largest state competition, the State Indoor Games, in St. Joseph. While the majority of the city was left untouched, many people in the surrounding areas were affected.

“While our pantry (in St. Joseph) didn’t see much of an increase (in people coming in because of the flooding), our pantries in Holt County and Atchison did see increases,” said Charity Tarr, food sourcing coordinator for Second Harvest Community Food Bank.

Special Olympics Missouri’s competition, March 29-30 in bowling and basketball, was set to bring in more than 3,000 athletes, coaches and family members to the area, when one coach from Hannibal, Kathy Butler, thought of a way her athletes could help people affected by the flooding.

Butler reached out to SOMO’s competition organizers and asked if it were possible to have everyone traveling into town from all over the state to bring at least one non-perishable food item with them.

“I kept thinking what SOMO could do to help as St. Joe has been so gracious to host our State Indoor Games,” Butler said. “Then I remembered the flood of 1993 and how my parents and I took donated food from central Indiana to Alton, Ill.

“My athletes, like all SOMO athletes, are very giving and loving people, so why not ask them to bring food to St. Joe to help others?”

Butler’s challenge to her athletes was communicated to everyone attending the State Indoor Games and in total, SOMO participants donated 662 pounds of food to the Second Harvest Community Food Bank.

“With this donation we were able to make disaster boxes for people who did come to the pantry,” Tarr said. “Because of your donation, 552 meals were donated to people displaced because of the flood. We greatly appreciate your support; thank you.”

Butler said she didn’t have any expectations in terms of how much food they would bring in, but when she heard the total, she was blown away.

“Special Olympics Missouri has touched so many lives through the athletes, volunteers, coaches and families,” she said. “How amazing that our SOMO family came together and gave back to a community who has had hard times.

“I hope we left an impact on the community, especially in our motto, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ Hopefully the area can be brave in the circumstances that they are in and overcome this situation.”

Guest post: Athlete-leader Lynna Hodgson’s Q&A with former, new SOMO CEOs

Hodgson, Lynna_TrackLynna Hodgson is an athlete-leader from Lee’s Summit. She writes on her personal blog and we highlight those posts from time to time. This is a re-post from her April 25 blog.

I had some questions for the old CEO and for the new CEO of Special Olympics Missouri. First up is Mark Musso. Here are the questions I asked:

1. Do you have any advice for the next CEO?

MMHire the best people on staff, move staff who aren’t good fits off the team. Always work to make the games better each and every year. When considering various issues, always do what is best for the Athletes and do so by including Athletes in leadership positions throughout the organization.

2.  Are you planning to come back to some SOMO events:

MMIn the years to come you will certainly see me at some SOMO events, probably as a Fan in the Stands.

3. What are you planning to do with your retirement?

MM: Travel, fish, golf, attend many concerts, most of all spend time with my family- especially my grand kids.

4. When you first got this job, did you expect that you would be the CEO for SOMO as long you did?

MM: Great question, I promised the search committee I would stay 3 years. Needless to say I did so 9 times. While I had multiple offers to run other Special Olympics programs- I realized I wanted to be part of SOMO which I believe is one of the premier programs in the world.

blogtouch_picture_15db5618_ed14_db12_f46a_2f67acb1d6205. What are your messages to all of the SOMO athletes, coaches, and staff?

MMRemember SOMO is your organization- YOU can make it the best in the world if you all work together and agree to always improve on each and every event & programs. Most importantly- do what is besot for the athletes!

6. When was your first day of being the CEO for Special Olympics Missouri, and when was your last day?

MM: My first day was September 1, 1991 and my last day was March 31, 2019.  Exactly 27.5 years to the day.

And next up is new SOMO President & CEO, Susan Stegeman.

DSC_4893 (Copy)1. What does it mean to you that you are the new CEO for SOMO? And what does CEO stands for?

SS: It means a lot to me personally, because I want to do a good job for you and your fellow athletes.  I take responsibility very seriously. As CEO, I want to ensure our team has the resources, skills and training to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.  I want SOMO to continue to grow – we need to grow our family if we want to serve more athletes.  CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer

2.What are some of your goals when your job starts?

SS: Within the first 100 days, I will be on my “listen and learn” tour to determine trends, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  I will visit with each staff person, and some volunteers to learn what we need to do to grow.  I will also be focused on learning about the inner workings of the board and how to support this important group of volunteers.  My job started on April 1, 2019

3. Is there something that Mark has said to you that is important to you?

SS: He stressed that he’s always known me to do the right thing and as long as it’s the best thing for the athletes, it’s the right thing.

4. Has Mark given you any advice? If so, what were they?

SSHave fun.  Move into his office sooner, than later.  I did on Day #2

5.Is there anything you want to say to the athletes, the coaches and the staff?

SS: Thank you for being on the SOMO Team!

Athletes – you are our heroes; your spirit and determination make the world a better place.  Keep shining!

Coaches – thank you for your dedication and for being the best volunteers in the movement.  Keep inspiring!

Other volunteers – thank you for helping make our program and events possible!  Keep serving!

Staff – thank you for your commitment to carry the mission forward.  Remember to dream big!

Together Everyone Achieves More!

  1. Are you excited? What are the most memorable moment that you have experienced in SOMO?

SS: I am excited to learn and stretch my skills.  At the end of May I will celebrate being on staff for 29 years.  I never thought I would say that.  I’ve enjoyed the variety of my work every day.  Working with law enforcement to raise awareness and funds has taught me so much about teamwork, the human spirit, setting goals.   Being asked to carry the torch into the Opening Ceremony along with LETR Founder Ralph Biele and Athlete of the Year Lucas Blattel – was the best!  It is so cool what law enforcement does on a daily basis for our communities and then what they do for SOMO on top of that – to be given the honor of carrying the flame to light the cauldron.  It’s one of my most cherished memories!

Special Olympics Missouri Athlete Finds A “Place to Belong”

Inspired by our mission, SOMO offers programs that cultivate the whole athlete on and off the sports field. It’s easy to see that lives can’t help but be changed through the programs that we offer such as:


Travis Mankin leads a tour at the Training for Life Campus during our dedication celebration

However, when you talk with an athlete, it truly comes to life. You not only hear their joy; you can truly feel it.

“My life wouldn’t be the same without Special Olympics,” says Travis Mankin, 52. “Ever since I can remember, Special Olympics has been a major part of my life. I have experienced community and a place to belong. I also have helped other athletes feel like they have a place to belong.”

When you speak to Travis, a lifelong athlete, you not only hear joy, but confidence in the leader he is becoming. According to Travis, SOMO is not just a place to train and compete, but it’s a community to belong to.

“As I get older, I can’t help but think about the younger kids that are not a part of Special Olympics and feeling bullied or just sitting on the sidelines,” he says. “That would have been me if I didn’t have Special Olympics. I want to make sure that these kids become a part of Special Olympics and experience the friendships and belonging that I have experienced.”

“I want to make sure that these kids become a part of Special Olympics and experience the friendships and belonging that I have experienced.”

Travis is not just an athlete; he has become a leader who wants to pass on a legacy for generations to come. This is what makes SOMO so much more than just a program or an athletic organization. SOMO is a family, a community, a place to belong.

“I love our new Training for Life Campus because it’s a place for our athletes,” he says. “I want to help raise funds to complete the back fields so that more athletes like me and athletes that aren’t even apart of Special Olympics yet have a place to call home. I want to talk to everyone about this campus and help open the back fields.”

Travis works at Oscars in Jefferson City and is determined to help raise funds for our back fields referred to as the “Back 9,” which include a softball field, tennis courts, bocce courts, horseshoes court, golf skills field, athlete pavilion and Law Enforcement Torch Run Plaza. Travis is joining the Training for Life Campus Charter Class: A group of athletes who together have raised more than $245,000 for the Training for Life Campus to ensure that SOMO athletes can experience what they have for generations to come.

Whether you are a donor, coach, volunteer, fan, or an athlete — you are SOMO! Thank you for being a part of this life-changing movement. Athletes like Travis need your support. Please consider giving to our charter athletes by visiting their fundraising pages or by contacting our Major Gifts Officer, Travis Bourbon at bourbon@somo.org. If you are a current athlete and would like to raise funds for the Training for Life Campus by raising a minimum of $1,000, please consider becoming a Charter Class athlete by clicking here. Contact Mary Niswonger at niswonger@somo.org for more information.

World Games 2019 Update 6

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

It’s been a wonderful day! One we’ll remember, cherish and celebrate the rest of our days.

Colin and Tom won the gold medal in doubles! Imagine that – best in the world in their division. It takes our breath away.

And it wasn’t an easy win. They played an excellent team from Gibraltar who went ahead 6-0 in the first 2 frames. That’s a big hole to dig out of. But Colin and Tom dug deep and stayed focused. They only allowed 2 more points the rest of the match. They had another 4 point frame which helped immensely. It finished with an 8-8 tie with the very last ball being within a fraction of an inch in Colin and Tom’s favor. The way the scoring works, Colin and Tom were the uncontested gold medal winners with no tie break needed. They beat the great team from Hungary by 1 point. It was a very close group of teams and every game was down to fractions of an inch. And they won the GOLD!!!!

We couldn’t be more proud. Colin earned a bronze, silver and gold in world competition! That’s pinch-yourself-amazing!!

We spent a good portion of the day waiting on medal ceremonies for all of our athletes. But it was worth celebrating every one of them.

Watching athletes Malta, the Isle of Man, Bangladesh, Suriname and Sudan beaming with their awards warms your heart and humbles you. Try to appreciate how much it took for all of these athletes, from countries large and tiny, rich and poor, to make it to this event, overcoming obstacles through their whole lives. It gives you great perspective about what matters.

Meet the Determined is a phrase we saw everywhere and it captures the spirit of the athletes and the experience. People of Determination is a phrase UAE uses for individuals with intellectual differences. And they are determined. They showed that every single day and we know it’s how they live their lives.

We’ll be headed to the airport tonight to start our journey home. We gave Colin a big hug and high five. We’ll see him on Saturday when his flight arrives, beaming and grinning from ear to ear just as he has all week, with a crick in his neck from wearing so much metal.

We’ll provide an additional update this weekend. Thanks for all of your love and support on this journey. It’s been amazing and it leaves us speechless and humbled.

Many thanks and Abu Dhabi signing out!

Mike and Karen

Colin medal trioColin Tom Gold Medals


2019 World Games Update 5

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

It’s been a great day of world-class, edge of your seat bocce. And we know what that looks and feels like first hand! It’s an exhilarating and draining experience in equal measures.

To cut to the chase, Colin and his partner, Tom, won all three of their matches in exciting and stomach twisting fashion. We couldn’t be more proud of how they kept their composure against some fearsome competition from Aruba, Singapore and particularly a very strong team from Hungary. Not every point or frame went their way but enough of them did to pull out the wins. In the last frame against Hungary they were measuring to within a fraction of an inch. We squeaked out with a win instead of a draw which matters in terms of point total.

Colin and Tom absolutely played the best bocce they’ve played since they’ve been here. In two matches, they scored 4 points in a frame which is the most points you can get and it doesn’t happen often. The guys encouraged each other throughout the day and played extremely well as a team. We’re pretty sure their awesome flag shorts contributed to their great play! (See attached)

And it’s not over yet. They have one more game in the morning to determine their final standings. Other teams in their bracket play 2 games tomorrow so we still have a ways to go before they see how they placed. We wouldn’t want to have a peaceful night’s sleep or anything….

Other fun activities today included eating lunch with the team and celebrating one of the player’s birthday, complete with cake.

This evening Special Olympics USA and the US Embassy hosted a lovely reception and dinner for US athletes and their families. It was at a beautiful hotel and many members of the Embassy staff and the US military were there. The Air Force band played, there were remarks from athletes, Special Olympics staff, the Charge d’affaire from the Embassy as well as the lead Colonel from military. All in all, an impressive event that put the spotlight on the athletes. Colin was even interviewed by the Embassy social media crew. He’s an international media star!

We have one more day here to watch the last of the competition and awards. Then we fly out at 2:00 a.m. Thursday morning to start our long trip back. Colin will stay through closing ceremonies on Thursday and fly out Friday. He’ll be back in KC on Saturday morning on United flight 3493 arriving from Newark at 11:01 a.m. if anyone wants to be in the welcoming crew. He’ll be exhausted but might still be running on adrenaline and walking on sunshine.

We’ll try to send a quick update before we take off with the final results. And we’ll try to get pictures of the closing ceremonies from the coaches we can share when we’re back home.

Thanks for all of your support. Your notes of encouragement have been the world to all of us. It feels like you’re sharing the journey with us. And it’s been one to last many lifetimes!

Colin and partner thumbs up

Colin mealtime

2019 World Games Update 4

Mike and Karen Garrison are parents to Colin, Missouri’s sole athlete competing at the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 

A big hello to all of Colin’s support team,

Today has been much quieter and less eventful than yesterday. Colin and the men didn’t compete today. Just the women.

We watched several of the women’s matches and some other sports. Very close competition among such diverse countries. We were intrigued to see a Bocce match between the Isle of Man and Timor Leste. Not two countries who probably compete against each other often.

We briefly saw Colin today. The guys went to the beach. We’re not sure what the body of water is. They just got their feet wet and walked the beach.

Tomorrow and Wednesday everyone competes in doubles. So we’ll be on the edge of our seats again!

Thanks for the many great messages of support. We’ve shared them all with Colin. He grins ear to ear to hear from everyone.

We’ll send an update on doubles tomorrow. Busy day of matches tomorrow and Wednesday. Go USA!

Take care and many thanks.

colin on beach