Large personality (even larger muscles) make Charlie Phillips a star


Charlie Phillips competes in the deadlift at the 2018 State Summer Games. Photo courtesy of Travis Duncan.

Dipping his hands into the tub of chalk, 21-year-old Charlie Phillips, set his sights on the 405-lb. obstacle sitting in his way.

His laser-focused eyes stared straight ahead as he rubbed the powder into each nook and cranny of his hands. As he approached the seemingly immovable object, he clapped his hands together a couple of times, watched the powder envelope him as he stepped up onto the platform, flashed his patented Charlie Phillips wry smile and waved both hands up and down to get family, friends and strangers surrounding him to cheer him on.

The crowd’s cheers started to slowly build as he bent his knees and wrapped his hands around the bar, left hand facing in, right hand facing out. With his grip established, he fought against gravity and started to raise the 405-lb. bar off the ground. He did so confidently, but slowly enough to not lose his form as three judges sat to the side analyzing every movement.

Pockets of people in the crowd started to chant his name until they all finally fell into unison, “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!” The chant grew louder and louder as he approached the top of his lift.

After reaching the apex of the lift cleanly, he started his descent, his steely eyes still stared straight ahead. After realizing he had a clean lift, he flashed that smile again and let the 405-lb. bar slip from his hands as it was just inches from the ground. The weights bounced off the ground a few times, kicking up a small puff of powder from the spot his hands just occupied.

Three white flags went up in the air from the judges surrounding the platform – a clean lift and a new personal record in the deadlift for Phillips.

He stepped down from the platform, beat his chest and pointed to the sky for his friends, Bradon Krull who passed away in 2016, and for Landon Smith who passed away earlier this year.

“Every time I’m at a competition or a meet, I pray and do this for him (points at sky) and he’s up in heaven and he’s my role model,” Phillips said.

As his mom, Tina Schoonmaker, cheered him on, she said she couldn’t help but think how far Phillips has come.

“We can’t get over the fact that he is able to powerlift at all and how heavy his lifts are,” Schoonmaker said. “Everything that he is able to do is truly amazing and a real miracle.”

‘He’s Rocky, Vince Papale and Rudy all rolled into one’

While Phillips has spent the last 14-plus months training for the 2018 USA Games in Seattle, there were times when Tina wondered if he would ever walk or talk.

Phillips was born with a form of congenital myopathy where he had muscle, but no muscle mass; he also has X-linked creatine deficiency, which still affects his speech and motor skills. In addition to those two conditions, all of his midline organs (liver, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, spleen, kidney and small and large intestines) developed wrong. Because of all of this, he’s had a total of 21 surgeries or medical procedures.

The doctors told the family he’d never talk nor walk.

“We had him fitted for a wheelchair just before his fifth birthday,” Schoonmaker said. “And within a week Charlie started to walk and talk.”

Growing up in central Pennsylvania, Phillips had trouble finding real friends, though it definitely wasn’t because he was too shy.

“Charlie has always been very outgoing and very friendly and social,” Schoonmaker said. “He has always loved sports of all kinds and just wanted an opportunity to play with other kids.”

But the community and school sports league wouldn’t let him play on any of their teams. And the “friends” he had, Schoonmaker said they only hung out with him so they could make him do certain things to laugh at him.

One day, after a humiliating incident at school, his dad, Ray, who was on a business trip at the time, heard about Special Olympics from his traveling colleague after Ray explained the incident.

“Ray called me and said, ‘I’ll be home in seven days and at that time I want Charlie signed up (for Special Olympics)’,” Schoonmaker said.

“Needless to say, Charlie’s life and our lives changed forever. He finally got the chance to be like other kids and be like his sisters and brother and able to play in sports. Being in Special Olympics has opened so many doors for Charlie.”

Eleven years and a move to northwest Missouri later, Charlie now participates in basketball, track, soccer, flag football and his favorite, powerlifting.

“Powerlifting is my favorite because I get to show off my muscles to all the girls,” Phillips said with that same wry smile mentioned before.

“(Special Olympics) has changed my life. It helps me meet new people and have fun!”

Since getting involved in Special Olympics, Schoonmaker said they haven’t been able to keep up with Phillips and his love for the program and all of his new friends.

“We’ve tried hard to teach Charlie that he can do anything he puts his mind to and to never give up,” she said. “When it comes to sports, Charlie has a passion and drive. Charlie is very goal-driven and is willing to do whatever it takes by working hard and putting in the long hours to make his dreams come true.

“(He) tends to turn to his favorite movies to keep him motivated (Rudy, Invincible, and Rocky).”

Phillips, Charlie_Powerlifting

Phillips trains at the 2017 Selection Camp

‘You’ll be able to spit nails, kid’

In the movie franchise Rocky, Mickey Goldmill is the no-nonsense, tough-as-sandpaper personal trainer that whips Rocky into prime boxing shape. When Phillips found out he made Team Missouri, he knew that, while he was very appreciative of everything his original powerlifting coaches had done for him, he now needed to find someone with more experience in powerlifting to compete on the national stage – in other words, he needed his own Mickey.

Enter world champion powerlifter and personal trainer, Bob Boyles. He said when Tina first approached him about training Phillips, he wanted to treat him like any of his other clients.

“I’ve worked at a university where they’ve had people with disabilities, people with strokes, brain surgery … (I just saw) someone who wanted to lift and wanted to see what he was capable of if he pushed himself,” Boyles said.

Lifting, competing and training others have been Boyles’s passions since 1977. He said training Phillips has been “refreshing.”

“He looks at it as, “If I can just lift this, my life will be better,’” Boyles said. “Sports are everything to him. All he wants to do is powerlift and not many people look at it like that. I’ve worked with a lot of good athletes and they all have that ability to focus not only in the gym, but also at home eating right and resting; (Charlie) is like that.

“Maybe he doesn’t talk as clearly as other people, but he’s like everybody else. All he really needs help with is converting kilos and pounds, figuring out what weight he wants to try on the next lift at a meet and how to properly warm up. He lifts hard, but he needs to understand all of the small things leading up to a meet and figuring those out for himself.”

Phillips said he couldn’t have come this far the last few months without Boyle’s help.

“He’s a good trainer,” Phillips said. “He’s very nice, funny, hard-working, passionate and really knows what he’s doing. I trust him.”

During their partnership, Boyles has taken Phillips to several non-Special Olympics powerlifting meets to give him a different experience in the sport.

The above video is from an open meet in Kansas City that Phillips and Boyles attended in April 2018. Video courtesy of Tina Schoonmaker.

“He doesn’t want to just be a Special Olympics lifter,” Boyles said. “That’s why I suggested those open meets were good for him. He can fit right in and I think that’s what he appreciates is that he can get out there and prove he belongs.”

It also doesn’t hurt that with his big personality and penchant for panache, Phillips tends to lift better in front of a crowd than in the gym.

“I don’t think he could lift 400 pounds in the gym, but with people watching he’s one of those guys that seems to feed off the crowd,” Boyles said. “I wasn’t sure how he’d act, but… he wasn’t intimidated by anything. I was more nervous than he was.”

Boyles also said that his training is much more than just lifting heavy weights.

“When Charlie jokes and calls me Mickey, that means a lot to me,” Boyles said. “(Mickey) tried to keep (Rocky) on the straight and narrow. (Charlie) came in and told me, ‘Women weaken legs.’ That doesn’t mean he can’t have a girlfriend, but I like that because I’m trying to keep him from making mistakes and bad choices.

“I’m hoping he’s getting more out of it than just being strong. I try to stress with all youth that everybody can be good athletes, but not everybody can be a good person.”

After his last meet where Phillips once again set new personal records, Boyles gave him a picture of Rocky that had been hanging in his gym.

“(He helps me) meet my goals and then move up to the next (goal in weight). He tells me, ‘You shouldn’t be worried about what other people are doing; worry about yourself.’ Walk out there with confidence.”

It’s pretty safe to say that Phillips is going to walk out on that stage at the University of Washington with plenty of confidence.

When asked if he had a message for his fellow competitors in Seattle, he said, “Good luck, I will win. Watch out!”


Where everybody knows your name

Life is beautiful, encouraging and hopeful.

Life is also weird, depressing and taxing.

Whether it’s through family, friends, organizations, etc., most people need someone to lean on when life goes from exciting to exhausting. Many times, for people with intellectual disabilities, that support system is either broken or non-existent.

For Brett Harper, 18, of Webb City, that’s definitely not the case; he couldn’t ask for a much better community of people who care about him and cheer him on at every (left) turn.

Life is weird
For 16 years, Bill and Sheila Harper tried to have a child. For 16 years, they hoped and prayed for the opportunity to name their firstborn, if it was a boy, after George Brett, the Major League Baseball player and Hall of Famer from the Kansas City Royals.

After 16 years, they decided to adopt. They were introduced to Brett, who was four at the time, and fell in love.

Two weeks after filling out all the paperwork to adopt him, Sheila and Bill had a moment that showed just how weird life can be; they found out that Sheila was pregnant. After 16 years of trying, and then filling out all the paperwork to adopt Brett, they were finally pregnant.


Instead of this being an overly-joyous occasion, they were also worried it was going to negatively affect their adoption of Brett.

“We were so afraid then that they wouldn’t let us adopt Brett because we were having another child,” Sheila said. “I was distraught about it.”

In the end, Sheila being pregnant with Willy didn’t affect Brett’s adoption.

After 16 years of no kids, the Harpers now had one in the house and one on the way in the span of a couple of weeks. It’s also funny how, in the end, they got their “Brett” they always dreamed about.

Life is taxing
Leading up to the adoption, the Harpers knew that Brett had an intellectual disability, but there was never a question of whether or not they wanted to bring him into their lives. The transition to his new family, however, did take its toll on everyone involved.

“He was horribly malnourished and not potty-trained (at the age of four),” Sheila said. “We knew he had some delays (cognitively), but we weren’t sure how they would manifest over time.

“It was hard because it’s like, ‘How do we help him?’ What therapies are available and what can we do for him?’”

When he first came into their lives he could really only say a couple of words, including “mom” and “ball.”

Living in the southwest corner of Missouri, services for people with intellectual disabilities are few and far between.

“We could tell he was trying to communicate with us, but just couldn’t get it out,” Bill said, explaining the most difficult part of being Brett’s father. “It was just heartbreaking. He’d eventually just give up.

“This area doesn’t have a ton of help for a child with autism. We were on a waiting list for speech therapy for two years, which during that waiting time he was regressing.”

One thing that actually helped Brett is working with his younger brother, Willy.

Life is hopeful
As most sibling relationships go, Willy and Brett’s relationship is one best defined as “love-hate,” according to Sheila, but when Willy started talking and working on his reading and writing, it helped Brett too.

“Willy would just start (interpreting) for Brett because we couldn’t understand Brett at the time,” Sheila said. “They understood each other really well. He would work with Brett on his reading and writing and it benefitted the two of them because they worked so well together.”

Harper, Brett_TrackAt school, Brett received the best education possible through the Webb City School District, and in the process was introduced to Special Olympics in fifth grade. He’s made quite the impact on the school district since then.

“Brett is just a likeable kid that waves and speaks to everyone,” said Webb City High School Principal Shawn Mayes. “He has an outgoing personality and is always smiling.”

Brett now may be that “social butterfly” as his mom describes him, but she said he wasn’t always that way.

“Special Olympics has built his confidence not just in sports, but in his schoolwork, his speaking or whatever he’s doing,” Sheila said. “It’s nice for him to be able to compete in something. He isn’t judged by his classmates.

“Special Olympics has been really, really good for him.”

Brett competes on his high school’s track and field team and ran cross-country in junior high. These weren’t token spots either; Brett is a phenomenal athlete.

“I’ve seen him putting miles in after school… his competitive attitude is evident when watching him,” Mayes said. “He has a fire that he wants to do his best each and every time.”

Brett said, “It feels good going fast. (I like) staying in line and crossing the finish line first. I like to win!”

Because of Special Olympics and the welcoming-nature of his school, Brett has flourished both athletically and personally. Last year, he was named to Team Missouri’s track and field team that will compete at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle later this month.

Life is beautiful
Brett will be one of eight athletes from Missouri competing in track and field in the Emerald City.

When asked what he’s most looking forward to in Seattle, Brett said, “meeting new people and getting to compete.”


The Harpers had a watch party for Special Olympics Missouri’s video to announce the team. Luckily for the 40 or so people in attendance, they didn’t have to wait long as Brett’s name was the first one to be read.

“We weren’t expecting that reaction (from Brett when he heard his name),” Sheila said about Brett screaming and jumping for joy. “It’s been just wonderful. We’re so excited.”

“Making (Team Missouri) has been amazing,” Bill said.

Brett said he’s happy he made the team.

“Everyone has been really nice to me and they say they are proud of me,” Brett said.

Webb City High School and its students amped up their support for Brett once he made the team.

“Teachers were (at the watch party), they highlighted him and did a story at the high school pep rally before football games, they honored him in front of the crowd…he was all over the place,” Sheila said. “One of the homecoming queen candidates (last fall) asked him to escort her.”

Click play on video above to see Brett’s reaction to making Team Missouri.

Mayes said he is proud to see his school support not just Brett, but all of the other Special Olympics athletes in Webb City as well.

“Special Olympics has always been something that our students have participated in,” he said. “However, it seems in the last few years it has taken off for our athletes. Our athletes receive a tremendous amount of support from the staff, student body and the community.”

Brett’s story is not just one of perseverance and incredible athletic ability, but one of inclusion. With the super-tight support network that he has around him, Brett is able to shine both on the track and off.

“He told me, ‘Dad, everybody knows my name – I’m popular!’” Bill said. “To see these other kids reach out to him and make him feel like a part of something is really heartwarming.

“We’re very grateful.”

Brett's training pullout story

Unified Fathers

This post was written by athlete-leader and Team Missouri PR assistant Allison D’Agostino.

Photos: From left, Colin Garrison, Larry Hughes (Unified Partner), Mike Garrison (Unified Partner), John Hughes

In Special Olympics, some sports have something extra. There are athletes, coaches, and one other title that brings a little something extra: the Unified Partner.

A Unified Partner is an individual without an intellectual disability who trains and competes with those who do have an intellectual disability. In other words, anyone can join Special Olympics; we welcome everyone.

Unified Partners help out the athletes similar to a coach, but instead of watching from the sidelines, they get in on the action by playing alongside the athletes. They even learn new or adventurous things from their fellow teammates. Half a million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports. Unified Sports break down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way.

Unified Partners can even compete at nationals. For instance, 16 are attending this year’s USA Games in Seattle to represent Team Missouri. Two of them are fathers to two SOMO athletes, but in two different sports. In other words, they are not Unified Partners with their own sons.

John Hughes is attending the USA Games for golf with Unified Partner Mike Garrison, whereas his father, Larry, will be there as a Unified Partner for bocce with Colin Garrison, Mike’s son. It’s a parent swap – SOMO style!


2018 Team Missouri_Golf

John Hughes (first row standing, far left) and Mike Garrison (second row standing, second from right) pose for a photo with their golf team

John Hughes and Mike Garrison, golf

With a supportive father, Larry Hughes, and a great Unified Partner, Mike Garrison, there’s no challenge and no obstacle John Hughes, 27, says he can’t push through. He stays determined in what he does, no matter what.

John Hughes plays golf, basketball and bocce and this year, he figured it was time to play golf at the USA Games instead of bocce as he’s done in the past.

“I had already gone in bocce (in 2006),” John said. “And I wanted the people who have not gone in bocce yet to give them a chance. It would be nice to try to win a medal in golf.”

His father, Larry, is on Team Missouri as a Unified Partner, but he’s on the bocce team.

“I’d kind of like him to win,” Larry said with a smile, admitting he’s not the best golfer and explaining why he isn’t his John’s Unified Partner.

When John first joined golf, his father Larry said he wasn’t very good. But thanks to a lot of practice and the guiding hand of Mike Garrison as his Unified Partner, the two of them are now off to the USA Games in Seattle.

Larry said that his son loves sports and loves to compete, but John had a really hard time growing up and playing sports in school.

In his time with Special Olympics, it has taught John what he can achieve in sports. He has learned sportsmanship, etiquette, to relax, and to have fun.

“It’s given him the opportunity to learn sports and learn how to do things at his pace,” Larry said. “I know it’s really been big for him and his self-esteem. (This) gives him more confidence to be able to take something he couldn’t do at all to be really good at it now.”

John said Mike Garrison makes a good Unified Partner because he has his own way of coaching. Mike returns the compliment and says that John is one of the most coachable athletes he’s ever trained.

“In the 12-14 years that I’ve been coaching, it takes most of these athletes a few years to make the changes that you suggest to them and put it into practice in a competition situation,” Mike said. “John can make those changes at practice this week, put into a golf tournament next week and change his game immediately.”

Both John and Mike are excited to go to Seattle for the Special Olympics USA Games. Mike looks forward to John’s new skills and the chance to medal. John – well, he’s just itching to get out on the golf course.

Team Missouri 2018_Bocce

Colin Garrison (far back row, on right) and Larry Hughes (second row, sitting, on right) pose for a photo with the rest of their bocce team.

Colin Garrison and Larry Hughes, bocce

Colin Garrison, 29, is a positive and determined athlete who is always a step ahead, planning for what will happen next. His Unified Partner, Larry Hughes backs this up.

“This morning, (he asks,) ‘When do we need to get breakfast?’ Well, not til 7. He’s up at 6, you know, an hour early. That’s just Colin in a nut shell. He’s always doing more than what’s asked,” Larry said.

Colin and Larry are all set to compete at the USA Games in bocce.

“So you know… Colin’s dad, Mike, has been working with John, and has been his (Unified) Partner,” Larry said. “John responds really well with him. The kind (of) flip side of that is that I’ve been the bocce coach Park Hill for several years and … his dad has told me and Colin has told me how much he wanted to participate in bocce at the national games eight years ago. And he ended up going to track and field and in New Jersey, there weren’t any slots, so this opportunity came up.

“It just kind (of) worked out that, well, if Mike goes with John and I go with Colin, this could be a really cool thing for all of us to participate in the sports that we’re good at and kind (of) help each other out with Partners in the right areas,” Larry said.

Each Unified Partner duo have learned a lot from each other already. For Colin, he learned how to slow down and focus. With Larry, he’s very competitive, but he still learned an important lesson from Colin.

“There’s more important things than winning,” Larry said.

Though they’ll be going to compete and have fun, both pairs of Unified Partners are stoked to enjoy new experiences on their journey to Seattle.

The fathers and sons achieved a lot in the years they’ve been paired together. They’ve attended plenty of area and state competitions and are ready for their next test. USA Games, look out, here come the Garrisons and Hugheses.


Guest post: Lynna Hodgson details training, feelings as USA Games draw near

This guest blog post is from 2018 Team Missouri athlete Lynna Hodgson (track & field). It has been edited by SOMO, but these are all Lynna’s thoughts and feelings.

Hodgson, Lynna_TrackI’ve been training seven days a week for three to four hours per day. I’ve been getting on the treadmill. I usually fast walk one mile, jog a mile and I do that for five miles. Then I would get on the elliptical for 10-20 miles, same for the bike. It’s an elliptical bike hybrid. It usually takes me 30 minutes to do 10 miles and one hour to do 20 miles. But before I do the machines, I always stretch, it’s always good to stretch before you do any kind of exercising. I also working on my eating habits, which isn’t easy to do!

Ed note: Special Olympics challenged all USA Games athletes to complete 1 million steps in their training for the USA Games. Lynna was the first Missouri athlete to complete her millionth step last week. When I found out that I was the first athlete that reach 1,000,000 steps, oh my…I couldn’t believe it! I was mostly surprise I took that much steps.


I’ve been counting down the days until the USA Games, I’m SO excited and nervous at the same time. I’m nervous about if I do a good job, I don’t want to let myself or other people down. I have a bad habit about that. I’ve never been to competition like this before, and I don’t know what to expect. But there is always a first time for everything. I’m SO excited for this!! I’m really excited to meet new people and I’m planning to get all the 51 pins (one for each SO program at the Games) and show everyone what I can do!

I think it’s really important for my fellow athletes to eat healthy because I know they would feel much better when they compete as they will have more energy. I mean I’ve been changing my eating habits and I really can tell a difference when I compete!

Believe it or not, I been trying to 57figure out how to encourage my fellow teammates to eat healthy. I think if the athletes can see what they are doing in their bodies, they would want to be healthy too. Or do a challenge for everyone and get incentives. Just maybe that would work.

To me, it’s really important to show my fellow athletes how to eat healthy and be healthy because so they can feel SO much better and compete better. I find that if you eat healthier and exercise more you feel so much happier, mentally and physically.

Ed note: Lynna is enrolled in Athlete Leadership Programs and is one final class away from graduating with a Communications degree. In order to graduate, she needs to complete a project that she comes up with. So for my capstone project I decided to build a committee, and the team will help me to get healthier lunches for state competitions starting in 2019. This project relates to be healthier because if you put healthy food in your body, the outcome will be great. But if you put unhealthy food in your body, you’ll become tired and not want to move. It’s like if you put gas in the car, it will run, but if you put not gas in the car it won’t run…so think that your body as a car.

I’m really looking forward to Seattle as the experience of a lifetime, meeting other people and making new friends, seeing all of the places we will visit, competing and making a lot of memories!

The Faithful Companion

For families with children with intellectual disabilities, often, educational resources are hard to come by.

Obviously not every disability is the same, so what resource or advice that worked for one family could very well have a different effect on another. Sometimes all it takes to make a difference in the life of a family with a child who has an intellectual disability is having an open mind and a willingness to try anything to help their son or daughter.

For the Grammer family, one of the best resources they ever received for their daughter Jessica, 18, who has autism, wasn’t a self-help book or tutorial video, but had four legs, drooled and “talked in a Chewbacca voice.”

Early childhood
From the time Jessica was diagnosed with autism at age two until about age 10, she only communicated through sign language and pictures. She struggled with night terrors and would constantly trip over her own feet, which led to constant bruises up and down her arms and legs. She would also have “meltdowns” where she would physically lash out at family and friends.

Her parents, James and Jennifer, were at a loss as to how they could best help their daughter for the wide range of issues she faced.

They learned that people with autism sometimes tend to have fewer behavioral issues when they are on their backs.

“We put her in the pool and it mellowed her out for the rest of the day,” James said. “So we’d use the water as a calming agent on bad days and it ended up being two-fold. She’d calm down and then as she was practicing, she got better.”

Jessica loved to swim because it’s nice to jump in the pool on a hot summer day, but also because, “it’s smooth and mellow for me.”

Grammer, Jessica_Swimming 1

Jessica swims at Selection Camp last summer for the opportunity to attend the 2018 USA Games

Special Olympics
With Jessica’s new-found love for swimming, the Grammers heard about Special Olympics from a bagger at a supermarket in their home state of Illinois. Jessica jumped right in and latched onto the sport of swimming from day one.

“We were shocked and very scared when we found out that she decided to participate in swimming because she wasn’t a very good swimmer,” Jennifer said.

Swimming started out slow for Jessica, but before the family knew it, she was taking home gold at local competitions and moving up to more advanced strokes and longer races as well.

After four years in Illinois, the Grammers moved to Steelville, Mo., and immediately started Jessica in Special Olympics Missouri’s programming.

Jessica obviously loves the training and competition that Special Olympics offers, but she also enjoys being around other athletes.

“(I like) watching the athletes do their own sport at the competition events… (to) see the athletes’ smiles, having great spirit, having good cheers,” Jessica said.

To James and Jennifer, Special Olympics is all about opportunities

“Special Olympics, to me, means the world,” Jennifer said. “Just because it gives Jessica an outlet to do something that she loves at a competitive level and succeed at it, and be able to go out and make friends with the other competitors.”

The best resource available
While Special Olympics certainly did a lot to help Jessica come out of her shell, James and Jennifer give a lot of credit to a furry four-legged friend who joined the family a few years earlier.

While still living just outside of Chicago, the family would regularly attend autism awareness and fundraiser walks near Lake Michigan. When Jessica was seven years old, the Grammers participated in one of these walks where students from the University of Colorado were on hand. They had several golden retrievers trained as service dogs specifically for people with autism.

“They said, ‘They’re doing therapy with them and they’re getting these kids’ meltdowns under control.’ I looked at those college kids and said, ‘There’s no way a dog is going to take the place of a human,’” James said.

One year later, the family was off to South Dakota to pick up their very first service animal.

Due to the specific tasks, the dogs are trained for and the length and intensity of their training, they are quite expensive.

“The starting price on one was $25,000,” James said. “To say that we didn’t have $25,000 is an understatement.”

Because Jessica was not talking at this point in her life, she had to teach their new family member, Jayme Mack, a bullmastiff and Rottweiler mix, a series of hand signals and touch commands. Jayme was even tethered to Jessica for periods of time to keep Jessica out of the water or putting herself in dangerous situations.

Jayme excelled at breaking Jessica’s meltdowns quickly and efficiently either with a simple touch or by laying on top of her.

“…(She) was able to break a meltdown in under 10 seconds,” James said. “Whatever anxiety or anger that was in them, they touch the dog… whatever’s happening in their life stops and (the anxiety) becomes better. … Whatever (Jessica) is confused or angry about, she gives it to the dog.

“It didn’t matter how long it had been going on, how severe it was… there was something about that dog; she worked unbelievably well.”

Jayme helped Jessica overcome her night terrors as well as an improvement in her physical limitations. Once she was introduced during Jessica’s speech therapy sessions, the family saw an accelerated change in her verbal skills as well.

“She’s probably one of the best dogs I’ve ever known,” Jessica said. “She was great. She was funny. She talked back in a Chewbacca voice (*gargles*)… I could never do it right.

“She was easy to pet and hoped you were okay.”

Socialization skills
One of the other benefits of a therapy dog was how it helped Jessica meet new people and work on her socialization skills.

“She won’t necessarily walk up to a group of people if she’s by herself, but if she’s with the dog, she will go up to anybody and introduce herself,” Jennifer said.

After Jessica saw the pay-off for her work with Jayme, she wanted to share her experience with other people as well.

“We ended up going to Easter Seals, Make-A-Wish and then of course the Autism Society; Jayme kind of made the rounds,” James said.

Unfortunately, it was at one of these public events that after Jayme broke another kid’s meltdown, he fell on her and shattered her knee. Because of this, she was unable to work any longer. While they still kept Jayme around because she was just like any other member of the family, they needed to find a replacement service dog, which is where Tank comes in.

Tank joined the family in 2013 and learned on the job from Jayme what it took to help Jessica in her day-to-day life.

“He is Jessica’s walking buddy and sleeping buddy,” Jennifer said. “He calms Jessica and is just there for her at all times. She learns a lot by trying to teach Tank.”

Jessica and Tank learn from one another on a daily basis. One such example of this is by utilizing Tank in her Team Missouri training video blogs.

Jessica is an athlete-leader who has taken classes at SOMO’s Athlete Leadership Programs University ( in technology and health. While she will compete in the sport of swimming at the upcoming 2018 USA Games in Seattle as part of Team Missouri, she wanted to give back to the team in the form of making sure all of her teammates were training properly, including stretching, eating, exercising and more.

“Originally she wanted Tank to do the videos,” Jennifer said. “You’ve already realized that Tank doesn’t talk, so the video was for her to be able to talk comfortably in the video and have Tank by her side (for support).

“We also realized people might be more willing to listen when there’s a dog or animal involved.”

Sadly, Jayme passed away in November 2017 from cancer. Jessica said she’s dedicating her swimming at the USA Games in memory of Jayme.

With Tank by her side and Jayme in her heart, Jessica will take to the water in a few months and undoubtedly make everyone proud, no matter the outcome.

“If I win or lose… if I was against somebody on another team, I’d still be congratulating that person, because the next time it makes me train harder,” Jessica said.

“Boy, I’m so excited!”

The New-York Literary Journal, Volume 4, 1821:

The faithful dog – why should I strive

To speak his merits, while they live

In every breast, and man’s best friend

Does often at his heels attend.

Guest post: An introspection, an apology and embracing my disability

D'Agostino, Allison_Staff

Allison D’Agostino will travel to the 2018 USA Games with the other 100 Team Missouri delegates and help the PR team take photos, videos and interview athletes and coaches competing at the Games.

This guest blog post is from 2018 Team Missouri athlete-leader Allison D’Agostino (public relations assistant). It was originally written on her personal blog and re-posted here with her permission. It has been edited by SOMO for content and length.

It hasn’t even been a full week into May and already there’s something to say about Special Olympics – about all the athletes, and even those who aren’t IN Special Olympics, but who have disabilities. Today, I received a call from my boss about certain issues that occurred this year. One of which consisted complaints from certain athletes about a question I asked them in my interviews. The question was, “What is your disability?”

To be honest,  I tend to react before I think. It’s been a gift and a curse my entire life. Lately, it’s been more of a curse. I don’t know how to fix it. Because I’m a PR Assistant for Team Missouri, this “react before thinking” has repercussions to Special Olympics, its image and mine as well. I tend to embrace everything about myself, including my flaws. Even though, at times, I wish I didn’t have those flaws.

When I asked these athletes that question – “What is your disability?” – I didn’t consider their feelings. Which I find that odd, because I normally respect people’s privacy despite my nosy curiosity. I thought they would want to inform the viewers what their disability is and how it’s affected their life.

Looking back on my time growing up, it’s hard for me to remember if people really bullied me because of my disability. Nobody really knew about my disability unless I brought it up. When I spoke about this issue of the question, “What is your disability?” to my mother, she explained to me that not everyone is comfortable talking about their disability and embracing it like I do. I am fully aware of that, and I have to constantly remind myself not to ask those who are disabled this exact question.

I was raised to respect people – no matter their physical appearance or mental issue. I may not always remember to do so, but if and when I am reminded, I make sure to back off and apologize. In a way, this blog is an apology to those athletes I’ve asked that question, “What is your disability?”

I want to remind you, though. You don’t need to be embarrassed about your disability. It is what makes you unique and true to yourself. If you see any flaws or skills that come from that disability, don’t hide them, but embrace them. You can use those flaws and skills to your advantage. Teach people what you can and cannot do. Inform someone what you’re passionate and not passionate about. Improve on those flaws and skills. This helps you get up off the ground with pride and confidence. Someday, you’ll be able to tell someone, “Yes, I did that. I may not have been THE best, but I was MY best. And I’ve improved since then.”

That’s when you’re truly living the Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath outside of sports and in real life.

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Live it. Breathe it. You CAN do it!

Two Men and a Truck Make a Special Delivery

This post was written by Special Olympics Missouri coach Mark Bussen.

On April 4, Two Men and a Truck took an unusual route to make a special delivery to Special Olympics Missouri. Tyler Sonnabend is their driver supervisor and he had a beautiful, full head of long, flowing hair. His management team offered him $500 to the charity of his choice if he would allow his co-workers to shave his head. Tyler quickly jumped at the chance to help others, and chose to help Special Olympics Missouri. Tyler’s brother, Brendan, has been an athlete with the West County Special Olympic team for a long time. Tyler has also donated his time in the past to help coach his brother’s team.

The $500 offer quickly began to grow as his co-workers bid against each other for the opportunity to shave his head. When the locks of hair finally fell to the floor, and Tyler had a new, shiny head, $1,849 was raised for our athletes. Two Men and Truck employees didn’t just mail in a check, they took the time to hand deliver the check at the team’s practice, as they wanted to meet the athletes and experience what made Tyler jump at the chance. They also brought their mascot, Truckie, in full costume as part of the ceremony. It didn’t take long for them to all have big smiles, and for them to see what our athletes can accomplish with a little support.

Thanks to all at Two Men and a Truck for their kindness and generosity. You made a difference in our athletes’ lives.