Special Olympics Missouri’s Annual Award Winners Announced

Jennifer Neihouse, Jeff Fugett, Mike and Kathy Lowry and the Hewlett family were all recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2014 SOMO Annual Awards Luncheon Jan. 18 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement.

Outstanding Athlete: Jennifer Neihouse, Lee’s Summit 

Jennifer Neihouse has everything a coach could want in an athlete–hustle, hard work, Jennifer Neihouse Athlete of the Yearalways smiling, cheering, great team work, willingness to try new sports and then some!  She participates in bowling, track, swimming, basketball, bocce, softball and powerlifting.  She would do more if we offered it and it fit her schedule!

Jennifer is currently tackling a swimming routine to improve her times so she can do well at this summer’s USA Games in New Jersey.  Once again, we have challenged Jennifer to work hard at a sport that is not easy nor her best one but once again she is doing the work and making improvements so she can do her very best.

Jennifer also exhibits a love for promoting the program and has taken the steps to be a Global Messenger.  She has given her time to go out and promote the message of Special Olympics to many groups in KC.

Outstanding Volunteer: Jeff Fugett, Bolivar

Jeff Fugett is a trooper with the Missouri Highway Patrol and has been involved with SOMO since 2000.  In his time with SOMO he has served on various committees and participated in the Torch Run every year.  Jeff also has volunteered his time at various events as well as hosting an area basketball tournament and has served for several years on the water crew at Summer Games.

At the 2013 State Summer Games, Jeff decided to come up early and help coordinate aJeff Fugget Volunteer of the Year group of officers to set up the games.  He then participated in the final leg of the Torch Run to open the games.  When medal presenters didn’t show, he stepped in and helped present medals to the athletes.  On top of what he did at Summer Games last year, he then did the same thing at Fall Games, helping with the tear down of each venue.

In addition to his volunteering at events, he is also a Super Plunger raising a minimum of $2,500.  He has been a Super Plunger for many years and truly does NOT enjoy jumping in the icy cold waters at the Lake of the Ozarks 24 times in 24 hours, but does so because he believe in the mission and in the nearly 17,000 athletes in Missouri.

Outstanding Coaches: Mike and Kathy Lowry, Independence 

Kathy and Mike Lowry are both dedicated, passionate and selfless coaches who give their all to Special Olympics Missouri.  The two-for-one package is hard to break.  Mike and Kathy are coaches who work on improving their athlete’s lives by growing them as Lowrys Coach of the Yearleaders both on and off the playing field.  They are always looking for better ways to improve their athletes’ skills.  They often give their time on a free weekend to travel to sports clinics and other activities, so the athletes can learn new skills and improve others.  Mike and Kathy offer seven different sports at William Chrisman High School, but when athletes want to play a sport they do not offer, the Lowrys find a team for athletes to play on, and make sure they get to practice.

Besides these duties, they both volunteer their time as key Volunteer Managers at the area & state level competition.  Both Mike and Kathy also bring their talents to Sports Camp for a week, in order to help make camp a wonderful experience fort the athletes.  It’s nice to count on them as they can be moved around at events to assist with different activities and they will make it fun for everyone.

Outstanding Family: The Hewletts, Warrenton

The Hewlett family is a family that goes above andHewletts Family of the Year beyond to build awareness for Special Olympics Missouri.  Kim Hewlett is the mother of D.J., Emily and Sarah.  Emily and Sarah are both athletes in the program.  D.J. is their older brother and he volunteers in a variety of ways as a chaperone, Unified Partner and venue coordinator.

Kim is a single mom who works a very demanding full-time job.  She is an advocate not just for her own children, but for others as well.

D.J. works full time at the sheltered workshop and goes to college in the evenings.  D.J. applied for the job at the workshop because of his sisters and his involvement with Special Olympics and his love for working with individuals with special needs.


SOMO: It runs in the Lang family

Special Olympics runs in the family for the Langs of Dittmer, 30 miles southwest of St. Louis. Amanda, 21, plays as a Unified Partner with her brother Alex, 16. Amanda and Alex have been involved with Special Olympics for five years through NextStep for Life. Their mother also helps coach for the agency.

Alex and Amanda Lang share their love of Special Olympics Missouri

Alex competes in five sports through the agency: bocce, track & field, basketball, softball and flag football. Amanda joined the basketball team as a Unified Partner and was able to compete at State Summer Games, earning a silver medal. That competition proved to be one of her favorite moments with SOMO.“After receiving our silver medals at State Summer Games, I realized I wanted to be more involved with Special Olympics. I walked off the court when we finished and told my mom I wanted to be involved in Special Olympics like Terri [Dallas, Leisure Services Coordinator at NextStep for Life].”

Experiencing such a powerful moment, Amanda decided to change educational and career paths to continue involvement. “I transferred to Missouri State University and declared a double major in psychology and gerontology”, said Amanda. Her eventual goal is to work for an agency similar to NextStep for Life as a Recreation Coordinator.

Amanda says Special Olympics Missouri is important her and her family. “My experience with Special Olympics has had a great impact on my life. I love being able to help my athletes achieve their goals and have fun playing sports that they love.”

Amanda continued with, “[SOMO] is the most rewarding experience I have ever been a part of and I think once someone volunteers or begins coaching Special Olympics, it stays with you. You learn a lot about life, how to always have fun and enjoy every minute.”

What is your Special Olympics Missouri experience? How has Special Olympics Missouri impacted your life? Visit http://www.somo.org/mystory to tell us!

SOMO(ian) of the Month: Justin Baker, Athlete (Central Area)

This is the first in a series of stories compiled by Special Olympics Missouri to highlight those people within the organization who are doing great things. The Special Olympics Missourian of the Month will highlight an athlete, coach, family or volunteer who the SOMO staff members believe embody what the mission is all about. This month, the Central Area has singled out athlete Justin Baker of Bunceton as the October Special Olympics Missourian of the Month.

Athletes aren’t supposed to be artistic.

Artists aren’t supposed to be athletic.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities aren’t supposed to be good at anything.

Justin Baker defies the traditional narrative.


State Track and Field (43)
Justin Baker waves to the camera at the 2013 Central Area Spring Games Track and Field competition.

At 26 years old, Baker is one of the most competitive athletes in the whole Central Area. Sure, most Special Olympics Missouri athletes are competitive by nature, but according to his coach, Lori Woods, Baker takes it to another level.

“What really sets him apart from the other athletes in the program is mainly his competitiveness,” Woods said. “He really wants to excel at everything he does. He likes to better himself.”

Judy Baker, Justin’s grandmother with whom he lives, said that competitive spirit has really been stoked and enhanced by participating in Special Olympics Missouri.

“SOMO has given him competition and that’s just great!” Judy said. “He’s committed to it and looks forward to it very much.”

But as competitive as Baker is, those around him say that he doesn’t let that affect his attitude toward other people.

Woods, Baker’s coach of more than 10 years, said he relishes the fact that his peers look up to him.

“He’s fun-loving, friendly and really likes to be a leader with his peers,” said Woods. “The main thing for him is for his peers to look up to him. They’re always competing against him in bowling and he enjoys teaching them.”

New Conveyor (15)

Baker, second from left, enjoys the company of his co-workers while at work at Unlimited Opportunities Inc. Baker, 26, has worked in the recycling department there since he graduated from high school.

That lead-first attitude is also on display at Unlimited Opportunities Inc., where Baker worked part-time for a number of years before graduating from Bunceton High School. He has since taken a full-time job in the recycling department where Recycling Manager Kit Brewer has had the opportunity to work with Baker.

“He’s just a very happy-go-lucky guy. He’s a really hard worker,” Brewer said. “He’s a guy that likes to work on all of our different processing lines and he’s certified on nearly every machine.

“He’s always willing to help and when we have a new person in here that needs to be taught how a machine works, he’s the first guy there to teach them.”

Another way SOMO has helped Baker blossom is through trying new and exciting things even those closest to him are surprised he’d try.

“He’s one of those people who won’t even get up on a ladder,” his grandmother said with a chuckle. “It shocked me he was going to do this, but he said, ‘I told them I promised I’d do it so I’m gonna do it!’ Justin was so nonchalant about it.”

Justin Baker

Baker poses for a photo with SOMO Partnership Manager Stacy Jones on Oct. 12 while at the Over the Edge event in Jefferson City.

Baker spent his day off rappelling down the Jefferson State Office Building in Jefferson City Oct. 12 as part of the SOMO fundraiser with Over the Edge. All of the money raised directly supported other SOMO athletes.

“Diane Brimer (Central Area Director) had a sponsor (Diamond Pet Foods) who donated the money to get any athlete to go over and she thought of Justin,” Woods said. “I asked him and he was pretty nervous, but he did it. We were surprised, but so proud.”

Of everything that Baker has accomplished, Judy and the Baker family are most impressed with how helpful and outgoing Justin has become.

“If he can help somebody, he is wonderful,” Judy said. “He likes to help people. He teaches some of the other athletes and is proud of that. He’ll do anything anybody ever asks him.”

In addition to excelling at sports such as bowling and track and field, Baker is a rather accomplished artist as well.

“He’s a really good artist,” Woods said. “He loves to draw. One of his goals … he says he likes to play that guitar so his goal is to become famous in the music industry.”

Brewer said Baker will often bring in some of his sketches to share with his co-workers.

“He also really enjoys writing poetry and song lyrics. It’s nice to see how he likes to write poetry and song lyrics. He’s a very talented guy,” Brewer said.

Growing up is never easy.

It’s not easy on the person doing the growing nor is it easy on the family dealing with said person.

Bowling Special Olympics 041

Baker, far right, poses for a photo with his fellow bowling teammates at a competition in 2008.

Since Baker started participating in Special Olympics Missouri more than 10 years ago, Judy said she’s seen a transition in him that was helped along because of SOMO.

“It’s a learning experience for all of us,” Judy said about raising a child with special needs. “We encourage him to do things, new things. I think he’s grown up a lot.”

One such recent instance of having to grow up is that Baker has been working for several years toward getting his driver’s license.

“He had a hard time getting his driver’s permit, but he finally got that and we’re going for the license now,” Judy said. “He drives with me on his way to and from work every day.

“We have family that really encourages him too. They all know his situation and like to encourage him.”

Judy said it hasn’t always been easy though.

“It’s sad that the circumstances he’s in, but we make the best of it,” she said. “He has his days sometimes, but we’ll let him know what he did wrong and talk to him about why he did this or said that; we talk it out.

“Practice makes it better.”

Judy said having such a close-knit family really helps.

The driver’s license will be one big step toward independence, but Judy said the biggest step for Baker could be right around the corner.

“He is looking forward to the day where he can get his own car and be off on his own,” she said. “That day might be coming sooner rather than later.

“We are incredibly proud of him and everything he has accomplished.”

That growth and maturity has also been seen by Brewer at work.

“Justin is still growing now. He’s a young guy and his personality and maturity level are still forming,” Brewer said.

Woods who, in addition to being his coach, is also the human resources manager at Baker’s work, said he takes his job very seriously; that wasn’t always the case though.

“He was in our children’s program when he was younger… he was kind of rambunctious as a kid, but he’s grown up so fast and now he’s a very dedicated person,” Woods said.

Judy said having a job has really brought the best out of Baker as well.

“At first he was really ‘It’s my way or forget it’ at work, but I think he’s learned to have more respect for his co-workers and bosses,” she said. “He respects them now because he knows what they say is right.”

From talking to Brewer, that respect goes both ways.

“I just hope that everybody knows what an effervescent personality he has. He always has a smile from ear to ear every time you see him,” Brewer said. “Not that he doesn’t take what he does seriously, but he’s just a happy guy.

“Everybody here on the crew enjoys having him around and we can count on him to keep that attitude up. That’s probably why someone nominated him (for the Special Olympics Missourian of the Month).

“You can’t help but smile with him around.”

Thank you, Mom: P&G Supports Special Olympics mothers

We all owe who we are to our mother’s devotion. Special Olympics athletes owe a lot to one very special mother as well: Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

maria eunice shriver

As part of P&G’s Thank you, Mom campaign, we’re celebrating mothers of Special Olympics athletes this week. Visit their Facebook page and share the video “The Gift My Mother Gave Me.” Every share equals a $1 donation to Special Olympics, up to $50,000 total. In this video, Maria Shriver recalls the most important gift her mother, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, gave her – the gift of possibility.

You can also help boost the donation to Special Olympics through Twitter. Earlier today, @thankyoumom shared a tweet about the Maria video asking fans to retweet. For every retweet of @thankyoumom’s tweet featuring Maria Shriver’s video during the month of May, P&G will donate $1 to Special Olympics, up to $25,000.

It’s also time to kick off this year’s P&GbrandSAVER® program! Keep an eye out for your P&GbrandSAVER® coupon books in your local newspaper on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, 2013.

This promotion is based on coupon redemption: Special Olympics will receive 2 cents for every coupon used and you must present the coupon upon checkout. There is no limit to the donation from P&G, so the more coupons redeemed, the higher the gift. And don’t forget the savings for you — the P&GbrandSAVER® coupon book includes over$48 in savings! The coupons expire June 30, 2013, so don’t wait too long to start clipping and saving! To find a local newspaper carrying the P&GbrandSAVER® coupon book please click here.

Maria also stopped by the Today show this morning as part of her new role as a special correspondent. You can watch that interview here.

Coaches are at the center of the Special Olympics Missouri movement

Most people know the saying: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

This disparaging adage about teachers and coaches doesn’t give people who dedicate their lives to educate and empower others enough credit. Special Olympics coaches are appreciated not just because of the dedication to their craft, but also for their willingness and patience to work with another forgotten and disparaged community — people with intellectual disabilities.

Obviously, the athletes are the blood of Special Olympics Missouri — the reason for the program — but the coaches are the arteries; they are the reason it is able to serve more than 16,700 athletes around the state of Missouri on a yearly basis.

SOMO simply couldn’t function without its coaches.

Two coaches who are really making a difference in mid-Missouri are Terri Hilt and Laura Wacker.

Different paths, same destination
Hilt and Wacker have been coaching or assisting with SOMO for 13 and 8 years respectively. While they’re now both coaching alongside each other on the Mid-Missouri Tiger Sharks swim team, they took different paths to get where they are today.

Hilt’s brother has been a Special Olympics athlete for more than 20 years. After seeing how much fun her brother had, Hilt wanted in on the action and has been doing it for the past 13 years.

“The athletes are my reason to keep doing it,” Hilt said. “If you’re having a bad day they can brighten you up. They’re always happy to see you. It’s like one huge family.”

Wacker has been a swimming coach for more than 30 years at high schools around Columbia and Stephens College, which is where she first started helping with SOMO athletes eight years ago.

After the Stephens College pool closed a few years ago, Wacker said SOMO was in need of another coach for the team.

“My (swimming team members) would work with some of the Special Olympics athletes as part of a giving project they did,” Wacker said. “That was just the beginning and I just kept working with them.

“There are these really great instances of joy while coaching. That’s not the kind of thing you have with every swim team. I have done it for two winters now and it’s been an awesome experience,” she said with a smile from ear to ear.

“I like working with athletes that are really willing to work. I like that the athletes are willing to be the best they can be and are very dedicated. They are very appreciative of the success they do have and really enjoy participating.”

Patience, not expertise, is key
With 21 Olympic-type sports offered by SOMO, there is something for everyone — athletes and coaches alike.

Both Wacker and Hilt agreed it doesn’t matter how much or little you know about a sport when you agree to become a SOMO coach. The SOMO coaching department has plenty of resources available to help new coaches understand a sport and its rules.

Terri Hilt, left, with her Unified Bocce team of Beth Brokamp, Sarah Byland and Jeanie Byland

Terri Hilt, left, with her Unified Bocce team of Beth Brokamp, Sarah Byland and Jeanie Byland

“I don’t really know all of the fundamentals, but I had wonderful assistants to help me with the things I don’t know and then I help them tweak that to apply it to the athletes,” Hilt said.

Having patience and the ability to quickly change lessons and adapt them to athletes’ needs are both more important to coaching than knowing the sport itself, according to Wacker and Hilt.

“You have to think outside of the box,” Hilt said. “You can’t be straight forward. If something isn’t working, you have to be willing to adapt.”

Wacker said, “I’ve been a coach of swimming for 30 years now, so I’m used to the scenario of coaching, but Special Olympics added another element. Not all of your instructions are going to be understood the first time. You might tell an athlete to do something and … they’ll take off and do whatever they think it is.

“You have to understand that each athlete is different and needs to be able to understand what you’re trying to convey — for each person, that’s going to be different. You might have to give instructions 10 different ways for everybody to understand what it is.”

A great way to help some of the athletes is leading with someone who has comprehended the instructions to show the others just how it is done, she said.

Hilt stressed the importance of really pushing the athletes past where they, and so many others, even thought they could go.

“A lot of coaches think (the athletes) are so cute — and that they can get away with anything,” Hilt said. “The athletes know that and will walk all over you if you let them, but I tell coaches to push the athletes. Because if you push them, they will (succeed).”

All in all, incoming coaches aren’t expected to know everything about their sport or even coaching in general; all of that can be taught to the coaches.

“It’s a real learning experience,” Hilt said. “I knew a lot because I grew up with my brother, but I didn’t know everything. I didn’t know how Special Olympics worked. Just getting involved doing volunteer work and at fundraisers … the more you get involved the more you benefit.”

Family ties
Whether you’re a coach, an athlete or a family, being involved with Special Olympics Missouri is like being a part of one big family. You aren’t alone in any of this.

In order for this kind of relationship to thrive, trust and communication are important at every level.

Leanna Krogmann with coach Laura Wacker

Leanna Krogmann with coach Laura Wacker

“There’s a lot of communication that goes on between parents and coaches and athletes…,” Wacker said. “A lot of times athletes aren’t able to convey what they’d like to achieve with you as much as they are with their parents. So you work with the athlete and the parent to kind of figure out their goals.”

“The parents are great resources in your coaching.”

Leanna Krogman, 29, has been a SOMO athlete since 2004; her mother Connie Dewey attributes most of the positive changes in her daughter’s life to SOMO and its coaches.

“She is much more outgoing and has developed social skills due to her involvement in Special Olympics,” Dewey said of her daughter.

“The experience offered by the activities has given her joy and happiness, providing endless opportunities to stay active and involved.”

As for the coaches, Dewey said Leanna, who swims for Wacker and Hilt, hangs on their every word.

“She truly looks up to them and thrives when she sees that they believe in her abilities,” she said.

“I appreciate their individual attention toward Leanna helping her to see her full potential. They can get her to do things a parent could never get their child to do!”

Why they do what they do
In all of her years of coaching swimming, Wacker said she has never been around a group of athletes who are just as happy cheering on their teammates as they are if they won themselves.

“They’re just very supportive of each other at practice and at meets,” Wacker said. “I coached high school swimming too and a lot of times we had to really tell the other athletes to cheer for the other people in the water and remind them they have teammates that need cheering.

“You don’t ever have to remind Special Olympics athletes to cheer for anyone else. They’re constantly cheering for their teammates. It’s one of their sources of joy as well as winning. They like to be cheered for, but they really like to cheer for other people.”

Looking back and seeing how far some of the athletes have come even in only a couple of years is what Hilt said keeps her coming back week after week to every practice and competition.

“I have an athlete in swimming right now — he started (two years ago) and was a real rope hugger,” Hilt said. “And now he’s 10 and swimming (100 meters consistently). The first time he got in the pool and swam a 25-meter, I cried. It was so hard to get him to swim and do all of the strokes that I cried the first time I saw him fly down the pool.

“To see them accomplish what most doctors told them they wouldn’t be able to do … it’s just awesome.”

To find out more information on becoming a Special Olympics coach, go to www.SOMO.org/coach.

Capitol Hill Day 2013: A Day We Will Never Forget

On March 6, Special Olympics and Best Buddies representatives from all over the nation stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to spread the good news of their life-changing programs for those with intellectual disabilities. Working for SOMO, this of course means so much to me. Getting a chance to speak to congress about the needs of our athletes is a huge honor! However, it means much more to me than that, and here is why.

31 years ago, my parents had a baby boy with Down syndrome and they named him Tanner Lee Hrenchir. That long ago, Down syndrome was still very foreign to most. They were told everything he wouldn’t do by the doctors. They spoke of institutionalizing him and were even told to have no more children because they too would be (pardon my language) retarded. Their dreams were crushed. However, they did not give up and decided even if every day would be a fight or a struggle, they would survive because they loved their son.

They found therapy and speech classes at a young age for Tanner. Tanner started growing and exceeding all their expectations. Then at age 10, they entered him into the great world of Special Olympics! After this simple enrollment into a program that seemed to be something he might like, our lives have NEVER BEEN THE SAME!

We have had so many special opportunities through Special Olympics. Most importantly though, Tanner and my family have found a place to call home. We have found a place where Tanner and grow and succeed on “his level.” We found a place where Tanner can be Tanner! Through this program, we have gained lifelong friends who have experienced the same struggles, battles, joys, and life situations that we have. As a sister, this is more than I ever dreamed of when we entered Tanner into this program.

Speaking of opportunities, Tanner has had the opportunity to travel to places near and far to compete. Tanner has had the great honor of sharing his courageous story about his life and Special Olympics to thousands of people over the past few years. Tanner also experienced what it felt like to be a National Games athlete in 2010 as a member of Team Missouri’s Track and Field team. Again, opportunities we never thought existed 22 years ago when he participated in his first bowling practice.

Tim Shriver, Tanner Hrenchir, Roy Blunt and Katie, Wanda and Jerry Hrenchir

Special Olympics CEO Tim Shriver, Tanner Hrenchir, Senator Roy Blunt and Katie, Wanda and Jerry Hrenchir

Perhaps the most honorable and humbling opportunity to date was our Capitol Hill Day experience last week. Tanner, myself, and our parents, Jerry and Wanda, were all able to represent Special Olympics Missouri for this special day. The entire experience was filled with joy, nerves, shock, happiness, and most of all excitement. You could just feel the excitement in the air and buzz around town that we were there to make a statement!

Our main goal was to meet with representatives, senators, and other dignitaries to explain the benefits of our programs to people like Tanner with intellectual disabilities, to share our story, and to hopefully bring them on board to be co-sponsors of the EKS Act. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act has one main goal: to meet the persistent and critical needs of those with intellectual disabilities by providing funding for health, employment, and education.

Tanner Hrenchir, center, shares photos of his Special Olympics experiences with Senator Blunt and Tim Shriver

Tanner Hrenchir, center, shares photos of his Special Olympics experiences with Senator Blunt and Tim Shriver

We were able to share our story to the offices of Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, Representative Bill Long, and Senator Roy Blunt. Tanner was able to give his speech in each office – which was a huge success –  and share pictures of him competing in sports through Special Olympics. Again, watching my brother share his life story with these individuals will be a memory I will never forget. To know he got to share his story at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., really can’t be beat! We were also fortunate enough to meet Timothy Shriver during our meeting with Roy Blunt. That put the icing on the cake for the Hrenchir family! To meet the son of our greatest hero, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and to be able to sit across the table and just have simple conversation with him was a complete joy. To meet the CEO of a program that will forever be home to our family was the greatest honor of all. Again, another experience we never expected!

We can only hope our stories touched the lives of those we got to speak to. We know that our lives have been changed by this amazing experience and we can never thank SOMO enough for asking us to represent them on this huge day. Another story for the books of Tanner Hrenchir … we hope for many more to come!

Katie Hrenchir is the Northwest Area Associate Director. She has worked for SOMO for five years. Reach her at hrenchir@somo.org. 

Mystie Lucast’s Journey to the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games

By Julia Ray and Debbie Lucast, Mystie’s aunt and mom

Mystie with Missouri's other World Games delegate, Matt Krippel, at the Sendoff in Los Angeles

Mystie with Missouri’s other World Games delegate, Matt Krippel, at the Sendoff in Los Angeles


Mystie Lucast is in Seoul on her journey to the 2013 Special Olympics World Games. Yesterday the highlight of the day was visiting a school for students with special needs. The school is special because it has a skating rink. The students there learn to speed skate. They speed skated for the skate team and then the athletes had ice time and were able to skate for the students. It was great to be able to be on the ice.


Sunday they met the U. S. Ambassador at the Consulate. That was cool. All of Team USA went. They wore their dress clothes for the visit. Monday night Mystie Face Timed with her mom, aunts and cousin. It was great to be able to see everyone.


Today (Tuesday) the skate team heads to Alpensia for the Opening Ceremonies. Two family members can attend since there is tight security since the President of the Republic of Korea will be present. The skate team will be staying in a college dorm near their skate rink in Gangneung. It has been a wonderful trip so far.



Mystie, far right, during the Parade of Athletes at the Opening Ceremony

Last night after the long bus ride from Seoul we went to the Opening Ceremony. It was amazing. It took one hour and forty minutes for the 2000+ athletes from over 110 countries, including many countries going to their first winter world games.

After the parade of athletes, many welcoming remarks were given by people from Special Olympics and Korea. They had singers and dancers as well as a light show. Everything was done in Korean and English so everyone could understand. This was the first time Mystie was able to see her mom, even if it was from across the arena.

Today we get on the ice! Mystie will be skating her compulsaries.


Mystie did her compulsory routine yesterday and did a good job. I would say probably she placed second. I also learned that she only has one opportunity to earn a medal. They take the compulsory score and combine it with her artistic program for a total score. Therefore, figure skaters can only earn one medal.

Mystie visits the Healthy Athlete Village for free screenings

Mystie visits the Healthy Athlete Village for free screenings

We got to visit with her before she competed, we found her in the hair and makeup room. After she was finished they let us go in the skaters dressing room. I got a huge hug and she wouldn’t let go. She was a little emotional but said she was having a good time. She hasn’t seen much of Korea or been able to shop, we still haven’t found any place to shop.

We are going exploring today and won’t be able to see Mystie. We’ve tried Korean food (really spicy, even when they say it is not). We’ve learned that if you don’t leave your hotel key in the slots inside the door, you won’t have any heat when you get back, so the room is really cold, of course the floors are tile and really cold. I think we have finally adjusted to the time difference and caught up from our 24 hours without sleep.

The Egyptian skiers are seeing snow for the first time. They practiced back home on sand dunes. Can you imagine! It’s surprising to see some of the delegations. There’s are athletes here from countries where individuals with disabilities are put to death or shunned. Some countries like England don’t even have a delegation but other tiny counties have two or three athletes. Walking around the village makes you smile.

After the Games 

Mystie medal

Mystie shows off her silver medal. Photo by SOMO athlete Kayla Ezell.

Mystie says, “The end of the 2013 World games came so quickly. We stopped in Los Angeles on our way back to adjust to the time changes. I made so many friends at the games. I now have friends from across the United States and Canada. After I returned home, Pastor Darrell asked me to come up in front of the church and asked me how scared I was to skate in front of so many people. I told them that I was not scared because I had a church praying for me.”

The World Games are such a special memory.

Seeing Mystie compete on the ice and do her best was amazing. she was so poised in dealing with the many people who wanted their picture taken with her. Some were even asking for her autograph on her trading cards, which was very special to watch. During the awards ceremony, she stood on the sidelines and congratulated everyone. She was excited to see her friends win medals or even ribbons.

Mystie started her adventure as a young teenager and finished it with such poise and grace it was hard to believe she is only 14. She is happy to b back at school and with her family. These special memories will be with all of us for a lifetime.

The Koreans were special hosts and had a massive network of volunteers everywhere to help you out. The buses ran like clockwork to go between the villages and they had wonderful cultural events and tours for the families. We were able to watch Mystie each time she skated and attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Los Angeles has their work cut out for them to live up to the standards of the 2013 Special Olympics World Games!

2012 SOMO Annual Award Winners

Matt Cepeda, Emily Reyes, Terri Dallas and the Rash family were all recognized for their outstanding contributions to Special Olympics Missouri at the 2013 Leadership Conference Jan 19-20 in Branson. Each year, Special Olympics Missouri salutes those who have made significant contributions to the Special Olympics movement throughout the past year. Each area nominee is submitted for statewide recognition, and the overall winners were announced at the Leadership Conference.

Outstanding Athlete Matthew CepedaOUTSTANDING ATHLETE: Matthew Cepeda, Kansas City Metro Area

At competitions Matt can always been seen trying his hardest and cheering for others. What is most impressive about Matt is his ability to be a leader in his school. He has become a huge voice around Missouri, but especially in Kansas City, for recruiting youth volunteers. He is the chairman for his school’s Fan Club and is the co-chair of Missouri’s Youth Activation Council. Beyond all this, Matt gives 100 percent to whatever sport he is playing, which says volumes since he plays eight sports!

Outstanding Volunteer Emily ReyesOUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER: Emily Reyes, Southwest Area

During her freshman year in high school in 2005, Emily volunteered to help with her school’s Special Olympics team. After that introduction, he became certified to coach bowling, basketball and track. Since that time, she has served as a counselor at Athlete Sports Camp and participated in many special events. Emily recently finished her four year term on the National Youth Activation Council for Special Olympics, Inc. She’s traveled the country as part of this prestigious group. She continues to stay involved even while in college.

Outstanding Coach Terri DallasOUTSTANDING COACH: Terri Dallas, St. Louis Metro Area

For the past 25 years, Terri has coached SOMO athletes. She has brought countless athletes out of their shell and introduced them to a new way to make friends and build confidence through sports. She organizes and coaches six sports and hundreds of athletes in Jefferson County. When one of Terri’s athletes qualified for the 2011 World Games in bocce, Terri was inspired to begin fundraising for a state-of-the-art bocce court for all the athletes through her program.

Outstanding Family RashOUTSTANDING FAMILY: The Rash family, Northwest Area 

The success of the Lake Viking Polar Plunge is due in large part to the Rash Family. Six years ago they stepped up to start the plunge at Lake Viking. Both Judy and James pour their heart and soul into the planning and fundraising for this event. James has become a coach for their son Pierce’s basketball and flag football teams. The whole family continues to seek new ways to improve our program and offer opportunities for everyone to participate.

Congratulations to all of our winners! Their outstanding contributions helped make this a great year for Special Olympics Missouri.

Laberer Family Reaps Rewards On and Off the Playing Field

The success of a program or organization can be defined in a multitude of ways.

For the Laberer family of Union, you don’t have to look any further than their daughter, Michelle, to see that Special Olympics Missouri has been a huge success for them.

“The thing that has meant to most to me is watching her at the dances and things. … In school they don’t get to do those things; she didn’t go to school dances or compete in school sports and with SOMO she does,” said her mother, Barbara.

“She has more independence and a sense of pride about everything she has accomplished through SOMO.”

Spreading her wings

Michelle Laberer

Michelle Laberer competes in flag football, aquatics, bowling, basketball and track and field.

Michelle started participating in SOMO events at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until a few years later that her parents started taking her to events outside of the St. Louis Metro Area.

“That’s really the first opportunity she had to kind of break away from us,” Barbara said. “I’m a really overprotective mom … but we would let her stay with the coaches. It really did give her a little bit more freedom.”

In the beginning Michelle was timid at events and around others, but after some time, she really blossomed.

“I think SOMO has really made a huge difference in her life,” Barbara said. “There are people she sees at every state event and they talk and hang out. It’s just really cool. It’s exciting.”

Making that money

Michelle graduated from Union High School in 2007 and now, at the age of 25, works at Sheltered Workshop in Washington, Mo., a not-for-profit that provides employment opportunities for people with physical, mental and developmental disabilities.

For the past eight years, Michelle has worked on various tasks under her supervisor Betty Obermire who said Michelle has come a long way since the first day she walked through the door.

“As the years go by, you see that she got a little more outgoing,” Obermire said. “They do start to socialize a little more and she’s doing excellent.”

She said Michelle is always on time and takes her work very seriously like any other regular job.

“She’s very dependable. Some workers like to roam, but she stays on task,” Obermire said. “She’s a real asset for us.”

Family matters

For the Laberer family, SOMO is more than just a few sporting events every year.
Just like SOMO offers sports during every month, Michelle takes full advantage of all of those opportunities, participating in swimming, bowling, basketball, track and field and flag football.

Michelle appeared with St. Louis Rams player Robert Quinn on a billboard for SOMO this fall.

Michelle appeared with St. Louis Rams player Robert Quinn on a billboard for SOMO this fall.

Barbara said her oldest daughter, Rachel, has been volunteering for SOMO for many years.

“She has been a Unified Partner with Michelle in bowling … she does the Polar Plunge and more,” Barbara said.

While she does not necessarily have a favorite part about SOMO, Michelle said her favorite sport is bowling because, “I get a lot of medals.”

With her mom’s guidance as a coach, Michelle has racked up the awards over the years, totaling more than 100 medals.

“Like I said before, it just gives her more independence and something to brag about. She has this sense of pride now,” Barbara said. “When she gets a medal, she has to wear it for a week and show everybody at work.”

A happy ending

In what may be the best ending to any story ever, Barbara said through SOMO Michelle has made many friends, but one boy in Moberly stands out from the rest.

“Eight years ago she met a boy at a state bowling tournament and they are still dating,” she said. “We try to meet up once a month.

“They’re talking about even getting married, which may just be a possibility. We’ve thought about adding on an apartment to our house because neither of them can really live on their own.

“That’s just been a huge life-altering thing that came from SOMO. It’s just been really cool.”

Barbara said her favorite part of being a mother of a SOMO athlete and a coach is just seeing the athletes succeed.

“You see someone get a strike, turn around, scream and throw their hands in the air … that’s awesome.

“They get to be themselves.”

Bullying and Hate Should Not Be Tolerated: Why Ann Coulter’s Use of the R-word is Wrong

Andrew Mundwiller is an attorney with The Cagle Law Firm in St. Louis. He represents people with severe injuries and disabilities, focusing on protecting his clients’ legal rights and financial well-being. Andrew is also a member of SOMO’s Board of Directors.

During the Presidential debate on October 22, conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter stated on her Twitter account, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”  Coulter’s comment referred to President Obama as a “retard.”

The next day, John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics Athlete from Virginia wrote an open letter to Coulter addressing her use of the r-word and invited Coulter to attend a Special Olympics event. 

Thursday, Coulter was on the radio and was asked whether she regretted her use of the r-word.  Coulter said, “No of course I don’t.” Coulter further stated, “Liberal victims are the biggest bullies of all” and when referring to people who criticized her use of the r-word Coulter stated, “screw them.”

I am a volunteer board member for Special Olympics Missouri and I have a son with autism.  I am not willing to sit back and let people bully children and other human beings with intellectual disabilities.  So I felt it necessary to write this letter to you.

I am so confused by how accepted hate and bullying has become in this country.  How is it that Coulter and those like her feel it necessary to attack innocent human beings to further their personal and political agenda?

I am disgusted that someone who claims to be educated and on the moral high ground would choose to use such offensive and hurtful language to people that she has never met. Furthermore, when given a chance to say she was sorry, she added further insult and continued her use of the r-word.

There is no place in a civilized and modern society for the r-word.  Coulter used the word interchangeably with the word “loser.”   I am not sure how that could be so.  I have been to many Special Olympics events and I have never seen a loser. 

What I’ve seen are people who are my heroes.  People who never let life’s challenges get in their way.  I’ve seen people who possess the best qualities that a human being could have, like love and caring.

Ann Coulter had a real opportunity to address the use of the r-word.  Coulter had the chance to stick up for people and denounce bullying and hate, but Coulter refused.  Nobody can change Coulter or her feelings.  It is up to our community to say, “I am not okay with hate and bullying.”  “I am not going to tolerate people being hurtful.”  We are all members of this community.  Life is too short to live in a society where we hurt each other.