How I Started Special Olympics: by Brittany Selken

The following story was written by SOMO athlete Brittany Selken as part of her practicum for the social media class in our Athlete Leadership Program University. Enjoy!


Picture the year 2000. I had just started my Special Olympics career with my mother school Trails West State School. The main reason why I started Special Olympics in the first place was to make friends because at a young age I did not have that many friends because I was shy person and with my learning disability and the school kids making fun of me. At the age of ten you just want to make friends and be accepted in school and that was not happing for me at that time. My mother thought it would be a great idea to join Special Olympics because it would be a great place for me to make a lot of friends that I can have in my life for a long time and they would treat me like a normal person.

When I joined Coach Linda May’s team I was welcomed with open arms and I started making friends right away. I thought it was so neat that these athletes were just like me and I can be normal and not be shy when I’m around my teammates. The first sport I had ever competed in was skiing and I had never done skiing in my life so at first I was so scared that I was going to fail in this sport and that I was not good in enough to do this type of thing. I did not want to let my mom/teammates/coaches down when I was competed in this sport. I was so happy when I went to our area competition in Snow Creek, Weston Missouri. I had gotten my first gold medal and I was so excited that my mom and teammates were there to watch me get my first medal. The other sports I did with Linda May was skiing, floor hockey, basketball, track and field and soccer.


Then in fall/summer in the year 2004 I went to another team called Jackson County Parks and Rec whose head coach was Coach Bea Webb. Bea Webb went to my mom at this time and asked if she could have me part of her team to do more sports and help me grow up into a young lady. My mom said yes I could join her team. I asked Linda May if she was okay with that and she was fine with it because she knew that Bea Webb could take me to another level at the time. The first sport that I had competed in was track & field. To this day I’m still on Bea Webb’s team going from the time I was 12-years-old from being a bad little kid to become a young lady. Bea Webb has taught me to become a better athlete with all the sports that I had competed in with her over the 15 years since I had been a part of this team.

I had gotten to go to National Games three time because of Bea Webb who nominated me to be a part of Team Missouri. The first national games that I went to was in 2006 in Ames, Iowa for track & field.

Then I was blessed to be a part of the next two National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2011. I received second place with my partner Tina Jones and in single I got first place. Then I got picked again in 2015 for National Games in Los Angeles again for tennis but with my unified partner Ashley Wurst. I got second in single competition and Ashley and I took home the gold medal in Unified tennis.

Officer Amanda Geno Named 2016 John Michael Letz Unsung Hero

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. We don’t know them because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are usually in the background working to do more.

About this year’s recipient:

 Involved in the Torch Run for 7 years
 Is involved in fundraising in both local and statewide fundraising events
 Is the agency coordinator for their department, which has raised over $632,000 in the last 7 years
 Volunteers to hand out medals at both local and state events
 Volunteers at SOMO state events as an event manager
 Organizes a Torch Run in conjunction with local school field day events
 Serves on the local Polar Plunge committee and has been instrumental in growing this event to where it is today
 Serves as a Unified Partner and athlete mentor

In the words of the nominator: “This recipient always has a positive outlook and is always setting goals for not only the law enforcement officers but the athletes as well. This recipient is one of the most positive officers I have had the pleasure of working with.”

The 2016 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to Officer Amanda Geno of Lee’s Summit Police Department.

Greater KC Public Safety Credit Union Plunges Into Fundraising

cu-in-the-water1The Greater KC Public Safety Credit Union is gearing up for its ninth year of plunging into the icy waters of Longview Lake for a good cause. Dubbed “CU in the Water,” the Credit Union’s team of brave plungers typically includes 20-30 credit union employees, friends and family. A few members of the team opt to take it to the extreme and Super Plunge (24 plunges over a 24 hour period). The team raises funds throughout the year by selling ice cream and candy bars in the Credit Union’s branches, as well as putting on garage sales and other fundraising events. This year, credit union CEO, Aaron Goff, hosted a “backyard concert” featuring Kansas City native rocker Bob Walkenhorst to raise money for the Plunge. “The Credit Union staff loves being a force for good in our community, and SOMO has been our primary charity partner for many years,” said Aaron. “We love Special Olympics, and we love the Plunge!” Aaron has racked up 80 plunges over the past eight years.

One of the team’s leading fundraisers, Laurie Clark, also stays up the night before the plunge to prepare and deliver a hot breakfast to all of the Super Plungers. When asked why she does it each and every year, Laurie’s response was “At first, I did it for fun. Now I do it for love.”

cu-in-the-water4Regular Super Plungers, Lindsey Moore and Becca Francis, both cite personal reasons for their support of SOMO. Lindsey said that, “meeting Special Olympics families and athletes has enriched my life and makes jumping into freezing water so worth it!” Becca echoed those words, adding, “I have [discovered] how important it is for everyone to feel accepted, not just in sports, but in life.”

Over the years, the CU in the Water team has managed to raise nearly $120,000 for Special Olympics and plans to keep participating for many years to come!

Registration is open for the 2017 Polar Plunge season. Find your location at!


2011 Letz Award: Jeff Cook

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

The Torch Run Committee elected to name this award after Mike because of his long-time efforts while serving on the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and who died from cancer. The St. Louis Trivia night fundraiser was his creation. It continues still today raising over $140,000 since its inception. There are Trivia Nights all over Missouri as well as in other states now as a result of the one started in St. Louis.

The criteria for recipients include:
Responsible for significant fundraising results
Participates in year-round support
Exemplifies the Special Olympics mission
Someone who is a visionary for the Torch Run
Someone whose source of motivation comes from helping the athletes


Jeff Cook, second from right, receives the 2011 Letz Unsung Hero Award

In 2011, Special Olympics Missouri honored Jeff Cook of the O’Fallon Police Dept. for the following reasons:

 Involved in the Torch Run for 9 years
 Has served as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for 7 years directing his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts, and organizing events like Raffle sales, and Tip a Cop.
 The first year he took over his agency fundraising totals increased 10 % and have continue increasing every year of the last 6 years
 Whether it’s a high profile event like the Polar Plunge or a more relaxed effort like hosting Cops on Top, selling shirts, or raffle tickets within the agency – he is the one who gets things done.
 Has championed the agencies Polar Plunge participation growing their team’s fundraising total each year – raising $88K in the last 2 years.
 Coordinated a portion of the local route of the Torch Run running the torch personally and ensuring the event runs flawlessly
 Their fundraising has grown as a result – during his 7 year tenure as Agency Coordinator, this agency has raised over $338,942!
 Served for two years helping coordinate the law enforcement participating for the State Basketball Championship
 Attends State Summer Games each year participating in Opening Ceremonies and staying for the opportunity to present medals.
 As a member of the State LETR Committee, this officer impacts decisions at every turn.
 According to his nominator: “This person brings great credit to himself, his family, the Police Department, the regional efforts of the LETR and to SOMO.
 There is something deep inside this man that is touched by Special Olympics. He can’t help himself; his enthusiasm is evident in the personal pride he takes in conducting himself and his events with the utmost professionalism while serving the athletes with dignity and respect.
 It is my honor to present this award to a person who makes a big difference to his agency, to the LETR and to SOMO athletes in the St. Louis Metro Area
 While one legacy may be the orange visors – there are many and none more evident by the way in which he treats his “water crew” assignment at the State Summer Games.
 The 2011 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Officer Jeff Cook – O’Fallon Police Dept.

2010 Letz Award: Capt. Joe Chapman

The John Michael Letz Award was established in December 1994 for the purpose of recognizing an individual whose unselfish efforts and contributions are directly responsible for the success of the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics Missouri. It is our unsung hero award.

We have many who are Torch Run enthusiasts; most we don’t know. The reason we don’t know them is because they don’t do the work for the recognition – and that’s why they are deserving of the Letz Award. They are always in the background – working to do more.


Capt. Joe Chapman (right) receives the 2010 Letz Award from 2009 winner Lt. Jim McNeill

In 2010, we acknowledged Capt. Joe Chapman of the Kansas City Police Department for a number of reasons, which include but are not limited to:
 Involved in the Torch Run for 15 years
 Has served as his agencies’ Torch Run Coordinator for 6 years directing his agencies’ fundraising efforts by selling t-shirts, and directing his agencies fundraising efforts
 The first year he took over his agency fundraising totals increased 175%
 Whether it’s a high profile event like the Polar Plunge or the more subdued effort of selling raffle tickets within the agency – he is the one who gets things done.
 He also volunteers at area events especially to present medals
 According to his nominator who has heard him say: “My main motivation to being involved in Special Olympics is first the athletes and then to educate and donate.”
 His agency credits him for the significant growth in getting additional officers involved with LETR by strategically identifying new leaders.
 Their fundraising has grown as a result – during his 6 year tenure as Agency Coordinator, this agency has raised over $328,666 – that’s an average of $100K per year!
 Another legacy is that he has already identified his replacement upon his retirement later this year
 It is my honor to present this award to a person who makes a big difference to his agency, to the LETR and to SOMO athletes in the KC Metro Area
 The 2010 Letz “Unsung Hero” Award goes to – – Capt. Joe Chapman – Kansas City Police Dept.


Capt. Joe Chapman addressing the crowd after receiving the Letz Award.

Tim Shriver and Roy Blunt Visit SO Missouri

For some at the John Cary Early Childhood Center in St. Louis, it was just another day to play. The children at Special Olympics Missouri’s Young Athletes Program™ the afternoon of Halloween 2016 (curiously without costumes) were enthralled with the colorful silk scarves flying through the air or the daunting obstacle course set up in the hallway.

Sure, there may have been a few more people there than normal. The cameras and the reporters? Maybe they were new, here to capture the program on film or see the adorableness for themselves. Two men in suits, with groups of people following them and hanging on their every word? Seems awfully warm to wear a jacket in here, but maybe they’re here to play too.img_4616

The young athletes, ages three through seven, did not let any extra commotion get in the way. Maybe they did not realize that the men in suits were the Chairman of Special Olympics Dr. Tim Shriver, and a United States Senator, Missouri’s own Sen. Roy Blunt, who were visiting the program as the last stop of Shriver’s global inclusion tour. Or maybe they were too focused on throwing their beanbag into the

Shriver visited this particular program as part of his aforementioned tour of seeing how Special Olympics impacts the world, ranging from the Vatican, to Austria, to Montreal and, finally, Kansas City and St. Louis. He wanted to visit Missouri to focus on examples of Healthy Athletes®, which provides people with intellectual disabilities free health screenings, and Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools, which uses sports, youth leadership and engagement to create inclusive school environments.

Missouri was chosen mainly because of the partnerships in health and education that have allowed SOMO’s Healthy Athletes® program to blossom, as well as collaborations with schools throughout the state and a 25 year partnership with the Missouri Association of Student Councils (MASC).

photo-oct-31-08-48-08-1Shriver started the day with Sen.Blunt, a supporter of Special Olympics programming during his time in Congress, in Kansas City to speak with a panel about inclusion and youth engagement. The panel featured representatives from MASC, school teachers, SOMO athletes, coaches, unified partners and SOMO Board of Directors Chair and Superintendent of School in Carl Junction Dr. Phil Cook. The panel was highlighted by a story from Spencer Cantrell, a golfer for SOMO and student at Park Hill South High School, who shared that when he’s golfing, it’s more important to think about the next shot than worry about the previous shot.

After the morning in Kansas City, Blunt and Shriver were in St. Louis by lunchtime to visit the Young Athletes Program™. Since 2007, Special Olympics Missouri has taught children with intellectual disabilities that are too young for participation in the official program, but still focus on basic skills essential to cognitive development. These include physical activities that improve motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and how to apply these skills through sports programs.img_4610

Shriver and Blunt got to see the application of this program first hand, with 18 young athletes working in groups with 25 volunteers from Mehlville High School. The groups moved through five stations that allowed the young athletes to build their motor skills by tossing a beanbag into a hoop, catching a scarf on different parts of their body, playing “Red Light, Green Light”, conquering an obstacle course and bowling down the hallway.

It didn’t take long for the Special Olympics Chairman and U.S. Senator to drop their
formal titles and embrace their inner young athlete. The athletes’ infectious joy spread to Shriver and Blunt, who cheered them on as they made their way through the obstacle course and tried to keep up in intense rounds of Zombie Red Light Green Light. They shared in struggles, discovering how difficult it is to toss a scarf in the air and catch it on your stomach.
img_4629In 30 minutes that felt like five, everyone moved through the stations, each one more fun than the last. After it was all over, the group marched out of the room with Shriver gleefully bringing up the rear of the line, where he presented Blunt with a gold, silver and bronze medal from the 2015 World Games, and thanked everyone for a wonderful day in Missouri.

Having Shriver and Blunt spending their day visiting SOMO programs was a great honor, and extremely exciting for everyone involved. It was amazing to share the joy that our athletes provide on a daily basis to visitors and see them buy into the program almost immediately was an awesome sight.

In what should go down as an important day for Special Olympics Missouri, the most important part is that everyone got to play. photo-oct-31-14-57-50

-Harrison McLean

Law Enforcement Torch Run Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Part 3

Law enforcement officers serve selflessly every day to keep our communities safe places to live, work, and play. This year, we are celebrating a wonderful 30-year partnership with law enforcement in Missouri. How can you sum up 30 years? It’s not possible, but we can take a look back and try. What drives these officers? The constant light that Special Olympics athletes give through their inner and outer strength. Thank you to all of our law enforcement officers for your bravery every day in protecting us, and thank you for all your efforts to support our athletes.

30 years – one decade at a time

The final of a three–part series
Written by: Crystal Schuster – SOMO/LETR Development Manager

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

2006 – 2016: Many Milestones Hit and Many memories created
officers_timAlthough 2006 saw a hit, along with the rest of the word’s economy, officers still hit the pavement running. LETR funds raised dipped just under the $1million mark, but our officers never gave up. They sold over 21,000 t-shirts and added two new Polar Plunges to the mix – Branson and Kirksville. There was a photographer, in Jefferson City, that stepped forward and offered to do some photos for SOMO, and from that photo, a LETR poster was created that represented all agencies involved (PD’s, Sheriff’s Dept., MSHP, Corrections, Military Police) and showed them with their inspiration – a SOMO athlete.

In 2007, our LETR started seeing some new growth again by adding two more plunges – Cape Girardeau and St. Joseph – and they once again raised $1 million. This is also the year that Susan Stegeman, SOMO’s VP, was inducted into the International LETR Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame!

red-w-banner2008-2009 saw growth yet again and our officers felt that there were more locations that could benefit from hosting a Polar Plunge. In these two years we added Polar Plunges in Louisiana (later moving to Hannibal), Columbia, Joplin, Mexico, and Maryland Heights. The Super Plunge was first introduced in 2008 as well. This event takes the Polar Plunge to new extremes by having Polar Bears Plunge 24 times in 24 hours! This event is held at Lake of the Ozarks and Kansas City. Officers increased their fundraising efforts tremendously in 2009 when they raised over $1.5 million. Part of this growth was due to a new, extreme event the officers decided to try in order to take their fundraising efforts to a whole new height – Over the Edge. This event still takes place in two markets today, St. Louis and Jefferson City, where “Edgers” rappel from the Jefferson Building and the Hyatt in downtown St. Louis. Also in 2009, LETR officers were honored to have Attorney General Chris Koster run with them in the final leg, in Springfield, although he felt that it was his honor to run amongst our LETR officers.

psa-taping-with-gov2010 was a memorable year, as officers celebrated the 25th annual Torch Run. Governor Nixon filmed a PSA in support of Missouri’s LETR and he welcomed runners back to the Capitol for a fun ceremony, after they recreated and ran the original torch run route. T-shirt sales went up in 2010, as it was a special shirt that represented every shirt that the officers had sold over the years.

In 2011-2014, new milestones were reached as officers pulled together like never before and raised over $2 million dollars consistently during these years. Events like Tip-a-Cops started expanding (and have continued to grow tremendously) and the Special Olympics message was being shared more and more. As the message spread, and athletes continued to inspire, our runner numbers grew – which meant we were consistently welcoming new officers into the LETR family. SOMO lost a great friend in 2011, SOMO athlete/hall of fame member, Gordon Barnes. Gordon spent a lot of time with his local LETR family in Jefferson City, and he never missed a Torch Run. Due to his contributions and support of his LETR family, the Jefferson City Torch Run route was officially named the “Gordon Barnes Memorial Route” in 2012. To this day, Gordon’s mom, Sarah, still comes to the run and supports her LETR family. She also volunteers to help at events whenever she can.

In 2015, LETR members in MO reached an all-time high for funds raised for Special Olympics MO – $2.5 million! Officers were commended for their efforts and were awarded with the Platinum award at the International Conference. During this same conference (which took place in Sept. of 2016), Chief Randy Boehm, Columbia PD, retired, was inducted into the International LETR Richard LaMunyon Hall of Fame.

Shop ‘n Save has remained an incredible partner through the years, and not a day goes by that we don’t appreciate all of their support. From Trivia Nights to Golf Tournaments and raising money through their “Round-up” promotions, they do whatever they can to support our officers and athletes.

Through these years, many deserving men and women received the highest award given in MO’s LETR – The Letz Award:
2006 – Sgt. Randy Werner, Jefferson City PD
2007 – Sgt. Rick Hayes, St. Louis Co PD
2008 – Capt. Don Spears, Belton PD
2009 – Lt. Jim McNiell, MHSP Troop E
2010 – Capt. Joseph Chapman, Kansas City PD
2011 – Officer Jeff Cook, O’Fallon PD
2012 – Sgt. Mark Koeller, St. Louis Co PD
2013 – Mark Wiesemann, Lee’s Summit PD
2014 – Sgt. Jeff Fugett, MSHP Troop D
2015 – Lt. Steve Davis – MSHP Troop I

As we end this 3rd decade of Missouri’s LETR, words simply cannot express our gratitude for all that Law Enforcement does. Through 2015, they have raised over $26.5 million dollars for the SOMO athletes. They don’t do it for the recognition or any glory they might receive. They do it because they see the impact that SOMO has on its athletes and the bond that they have with our athletes is truly inspiring. Law Enforcement officers go above and beyond for their communities every single day – but what they do for Special Olympics MO is indescribable. Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough, but on behalf of all 15,000 Special Olympics MO athletes, THANK YOU for being our HEROES!