Join us as we celebrate “12 Days of SOWI” this holiday season!
For the third straight year we highlight our talented athletes, coaches, volunteers, community partners, and the many other wonderful people who help make our tight-knit SOWI community so incredible.
Before we look ahead to 2023, join us as we revisit stories from this past calendar year, and know that your support is more important than ever!
On the first day of SOWI…
…we start with perhaps the coolest event of the year—the Polar Plunge! Nearly 1,900 brave souls took the leap into icy waters in January, February, and March as part of Special Olympics Wisconsin’s largest annual fundraising event.
Athletes, schools, and supporters from across the state were truly “Freezin’ for a Reason.” Columbus, Chilton, and Wisconsin Rapids high schools all set records for fundraising and overall involvement. The unified pair of Jennifer & Malinda Fuerstenau plunged into four different waters across the state, helping promote Team Wisconsin for the upcoming USA Games. And hundreds of law enforcement officers and community partner groups contributed at each location. While the water and weather may have been cold, hearts sure were warm!
Want to Go Polar this year? Be sure to check out the 2023 Polar Plunge website—now open for registration!
On the second day of SOWI…
…Special Olympics Wisconsin, in collaboration with the Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Admirals, and Green Bay Packers, announced OUR TEAM—a first-of-its-kind initiative to celebrate inclusion across sport—at a press conference at Fiserv Forum in April.
OUR TEAM is designed to showcase the programming Special Olympics Wisconsin currently makes available to statewide athletes with intellectual disabilities and, through awareness and fundraising efforts associated with the new initiative, celebrate athletes of all abilities in all sports in communities across Wisconsin.
Events throughout the year included an Admirals Jersey Auction, Packers Give Back Game, and SOWI Night with the Brewers. SOWI is so thankful for our professional sports organization partnerships, and look forward to building a future of inclusion across sport!
On the third day of SOWI…
…Special Olympics Wisconsin announced Chad Hershner as its new President & CEO, just the fourth in its 50-year history.
“I am honored and humbled to serve as the next President & CEO of Special Olympics Wisconsin–I have focused my entire career on working in mission-focused organizations that make a difference,” Hershner said. “Personally, I have several friends whose lives, or the lives of their children, have been positively impacted by their involvement with Special Olympics Wisconsin. I am excited to join an incredible team of staff and I look forward to working closely with our athletes, families and dedicated partners who share in our vision to create communities of inclusion throughout Wisconsin.”
Hershner has been around the state in numerous regional and state-level events and hearing meetings, engaging with our Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes and their families, coaches, and fans.
On the fourth day of SOWI…
…Special Olympics Wisconsin welcomed a new partnership for its Healthy Hearing programming. HEAR Wisconsin will showcase new and innovative tools and techniques—including the rollout and implementation of the Mobile Audiology Clinic (MAC), a vehicle quite literally delivering hearing healthcare and hearing conservation services right to the competition venue.
“HEAR Wisconsin has extensive experience serving children and adults with hearing loss throughout Wisconsin and when we learned about the opportunity to partner with SOWI we were excited to do so,” HEAR Wisconsin Director of Strategic Initiatives Mark Stein said. “HEAR Wisconsin is honored to be part of SOWI and looks forward to a partnership that benefits the athletes and helps raise awareness about the importance of quality hearing healthcare.”
On the fifth day of SOWI…
…Captain Chris Tarmann of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Police Department represented Special Olympics Wisconsin in the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg leading up to the USA Games this past June. Captain Tarmann took part in various legs across Miami and Western Florida leading up to the weeklong competition in Orlando.
During the Final Leg, six Special Olympics athletes joined law enforcement personnel from across the country to safely deliver the Flame of Hope to Exploria Stadium for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games Opening Ceremony. The Flame of Hope carried by Captain Tarmann ignited a custom-made, never-before-seen cauldron, which resided at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the duration of the Games.
On the sixth day of SOWI…
…Prior to Team Wisconsin’s departure for the USA Games, Special Olympics Wisconsin held a send-off celebration at Fiserv Forum. Guest speakers included Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, SOWI President & CEO Chad Hershner, and Team Wisconsin athletes, coaches, and delegation personnel. Also featuring entertainment from Bango and the Bucks Beats drum corps, the event was hosted and emceed by DJ Shawna Nicols, official DJ & Producer of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Incredible and varied statewide support made this event possible. Corey Coonen, State Deputy of the Wisconsin State Council Knights of Columbus, presented a check for $142,677 in support of Team Wisconsin—surpassing the group’s initial four-year fundraising goal. The nationwide Jersey Mike’s campaign raised $173,750 for Team Wisconsin alone. And the individual efforts by the delegation via Polar Plunges and other grassroots means raised $153,511. In total, supporters raised nearly $500,000 to support Team Wisconsin and its commitment to inclusion.
On the seventh day of SOWI…
…Team Wisconsin certainly took the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games by storm. Facing 51 delegations from across the U.S. and 11 more representing Caribbean nations, 39 medals were claimed, numerous personal bests were set, and the delegation of nearly 100 statewide athletes and coaches wrapped up a busy week with incredible triumph.
Athletics (Track & Field) led the way with five gold, two silver, and four bronze finishes alone—including gold in the 4×100 relay. Bocce was right on pace with four gold, three silver, and four bronze with all three four-person teams claiming gold or silver. Swimming posted four golds of its own to go with a pair of silvers and bronzes for eight total medals. And Bowling landed four silver and three bronze finishes distributed evenly between singles, doubles, and team competition. Unified Flag Football’s last-minute go-ahead touchdown to secure gold was certainly one of the more memorable finishes from the week, while big time hits and clutch fielding led Softball to a silver in the highest division offered at the USA Games.
On the eighth day of SOWI…
…The Youth Leadership Experience (YLE) was an amazing experience hosted by Special Olympics North America (SONA) and the Youth Ambassadors at the USA Games in Orlando. Our Team Wisconsin representatives consisted of athlete Alicia Langlois, unified peer Anabelle Hodges, and Special Education teacher & Unified Champion Schools liaison Jenni Oeftger, all from Neenah Public Schools. They participated in a variety of activities including volunteering at a YMCA, job shadowing the amazing Sean Whitley from Special Olympics Nebraska, telling stories of different athletes and happenings at the USA games, and participating in the Unified Sports experience at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
“When I went to YLE, I was excited and nervous,” Langlois said. “I did not know anyone’s name. I met new friends including Tatum and Aaron from Virginia and I was happy. They were like family when I met them. I tried new food and went on rides I did not like, but I pushed myself to try new things with my new friends. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and was so happy when I did something I never thought I could do. YLE is very important to me because I got to help with little kids and do fun stuff at the Young Athletes Festival. I got to watch different sports and cheer for them.”
On the ninth day of SOWI…
…Longtime Special Olympics Wisconsin coach, volunteer, and mentor Deb Moore-Gruenloh was honored as Northeast Wisconsin’s Volunteer of the Year at the prestigious 2022 Governor’s Service Awards ceremony. From Serve Wisconsin, host of the event, the Governor’s Service Awards “honor outstanding national service members, volunteers, and programs that have helped to address serious social needs in their communities… [who] have made significant contributions to Wisconsin through their service efforts, with their generous service impacting the lives of countless Wisconsinites.”
Through her 35 years of volunteer service, Deb Moore-Gruenloh has truly personified the mission of Special Olympics… She knew at the age of 13 that she wanted to become a Special Education teacher, having a “calling” to work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. This calling also led her to many roles volunteering with Special Olympic Wisconsin and journeys across the USA and internationally coach for delegations of athletes. Volunteers like Deb make Special Olympics Wisconsin a truly remarkable place!
On the tenth day of SOWI…
…Thousands of Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes, coaches, volunteers, and fans converged on Carroll University for the 50th Anniversary Celebration Games, creating SOWI’s largest sports competition ever. Athletes competed in Bocce, Softball, Swimming, Tennis, and Track & Field, and attended four complementary Healthy Athletes disciplines. Nearly 300 health screenings were completed—free and available to all SOWI athletes—and several attended a COVID Education Station hosted by Unified Leadership Specialists Lexi Galarowicz and Edward Kastern.
A Parade of Athletes showcased statewide programs, the Law Enforcement Torch Run held its Final Leg and an Opening Ceremony featured keynote speaker Bonnie Blair. Victory Village brought together local vendors, sponsors, demonstrations, and SOWI unified activities and DJ Shawna capped off the “Day of Inclusion” at the Victory Jubilee.
It was certainly an incredible weekend celebrating 50 years of changing lives!
On the eleventh day of SOWI…
…Captain Jason Mentzel of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections – Oakhill Correctional Institution and Officer Chuck Frandsen of the City of La Crosse Police Department were named respective 2022 and 2021 recipients of the Dale Brunner Hall of Fame Award. This year’s inductees were honored at the 50th Anniversary Celebration Games.
“It is incredibly fulfilling to be able to use my position as a member of the Law Enforcement family to be a part of something greater than me,” Mentzel said. “I love working with, and supporting the Athletes. Their positive outlook on life through sports is truly inspirational and rewarding.”
With a combined 30-plus years of volunteer work with SOWI, Captain Mentzel and Officer Frandsen optimize our partnership with law enforcement to raise funds and promote inclusion in our communities statewide.
On the twelfth day of SOWI…
…The Special Olympics Wisconsin Athlete Leadership Council met in-person for the first time in three years, helping plan the future of Special Olympics Wisconsin programming and athlete offerings.
The ALC is a statewide committee where two nominated and selected athlete leaders per region serve 3-year terms to provide input and leadership to SOWI. The ALC also includes a pair of athlete leaders who also serve on the board of directors and an athlete representative from the statewide LETR Council.
Led by athlete and SOWI Unified Leadership Specialist Lexi Galarowicz, the ALC planned upcoming Activation Stations at all 2023 Special Olympics Wisconsin State competitions—which now includes Winter Games, Spring Games, Summer Games, Fall Games, and State Tournaments for Bowling, Golf, and Volleyball. These Activation Stations will keep the ALC connected to the 250+ recently trained Athlete Leaders to ensure they have opportunities to serve in meaningful positions within and outside SOWI.