Chicagoland

Local ministries see benefits of Special Olympics

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
July 11, 2018

Local ministries see benefits of Special Olympics

Residents and clients of Chicago ministries have participated in Special Olympics since the first games were held 50 years ago at Soldier Field. They will join thousands of others in celebrating the games’ 50th anniversary with events around Chicago July 17-21, 2018.
Special Olympians from Misericordia joined the Chicago Sky to participate in a basketball clinic as part of inaugural "Chicago Fit Health and Fitness Festival" at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on July 8, 2018. The basketball clinics were led by Sky coaches Amber Stocks and Awvee Storey. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Chicago Sky coaches worked with Special Olympians at the inaugural "Chicago Fit Health and Fitness Festival" at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on July 8, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Special Olympians from Misericordia joined the Chicago Sky in the inaugural "Chicago Fit Health and Fitness Festival" at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on July 8, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Special Olympians practice in the gym at St. Mary of Providence Home on July 9, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Rosann Straukas high-fives a Special Olympian during practice in the gym at St. Mary of Providence Home on July 9, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Margaret S. first participated in Special Olympics when she was 7 years old. Now 42, the St. Mary of Providence Home resident still participates and loves every minute of training and competing.

“If I could talk to Eunice Kennedy Shriver (founder of Special Olympics) I would say thank you so much for making the program open to people like me,” Margaret S. said. “It makes me feel good about myself and do more things. It helps me to exercise more.”

Residents of St. Mary of Providence, a residential and day program for people with developmental disabilities located at 4200 N. Austin Ave., have participated in Special Olympics since the first games were held 50 years ago at Soldier Field. They will join thousands of others in celebrating the games’ 50th anniversary with events around Chicago July 17-21.

The residents of St. Mary’s love participating in the games, with the local competitions stretching all year depending upon the sport. 

They begin asking about training in January, said Rosann Straukas, who coordinates the teams for St. Mary’s and has worked at the home for 37 years. Before that she was involved through her sister, who attended the day programs. 

Participating in Special Olympics benefits the players in many ways. 

“It teaches them sportsmanship, kindness to one another and others they don’t know. It gives them a sense of pride and teamwork,” she said. 

Residents participate in events like the softball throw, bowling, walk races and bocce ball. They are getting older so they don’t compete as much in the more strenuous sports like basketball. 

“They work so hard to get to that next step. They look forward to it,” Straukas said. “I still get emotional watching them because they try so hard.”

Maria R. took part in the first games in 1968 and still participates. She told the Chicago Catholic she loves to play bocce and win medals. Michelle M. also said winning medals was a highlight, along with “meeting new people.”

For Misericordia resident Michael C., running is his sport. He loves it so much, he said, and even won a gold medal as part of a 400-meter relay team. 

Matt M. said he has been playing basketball “since I was a baby,” and looks forward to competing in that sport each year.

Misericordia, a home for people with developmental disabilities located at 6300 N. Ridge Ave., has about 200 residents who annually participate in the games. It’s a positive way to keep those with developmental disabilities active, said Gail Wojciechowski, director of Misericordia’s recreation and leisure department.

“For some, they experience new abilities and skills that can lead to improved self-confidence and social opportunities not only in sports but in everyday life,” Wojciechowski said. “Special Olympics bring so many opportunities to the athletes. Some strive to be their best in individual sports and become leaders in team sports.” 

Misericordia’s Heartbreakers dance troupe will perform July 21 at the Special Olympics Global Day of Inclusion festival at Soldier Field.
Special Olympics benefits the coaches and volunteers too. 

“I have seen so many achieve goals that no one ever thought possible,” Wojciechowski said. “They have given me more happiness and joy over the years than they can even imagine.”

Topics:

  • special olympics

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